One by one, the union’s newest class of recertified bosuns stepped to the podium to address their classmates, other fellow Seafarers, trainees and SIU officials.
As they spoke at the Aug. 5 membership meeting in Piney Point, Md., an unofficial but common theme emerged: Both the union and its affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education offer excellent opportunities to sustain meaningful, rewarding careers. Several of the bosuns mentioned that sailing with the SIU enabled them to comfortably support their respective families, including putting kids through college.
In fact, a few of the graduates were joined at the meeting by family members who travelled to the school.
In all, 10 Seafarers completed the three-week curriculum, which is the top one available to SIU deck-department mariners. The graduates are Lonnie Porchea, Mohamed Mohamed, Virgilio Rosales, Cleofe Bernardez Castro, Carlos Arauz, Joseph French, Saleh Ahmed, Christopher Janics, Moises Ramos and Richard Szabo.
The Seafarers covered many subjects throughout the recertification class. They worked with Paul Hall Center instructors and met with representatives from various departments of the SIU as well as the Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan and the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO. Topics and training included new security requirements stemming from amendments to the STCW convention; basic safety training; communication skills; computer proficiency; other international maritime conventions; working with apprentices at the school; SIU contracts, and grassroots political action.
Following are highlights of the graduation speeches, in chronological order.
A Seafarer since 1997 who ships from Philadelphia, Porchea said the three weeks spent in recertification were among the best times of his life.
“I’ve learned so much, and now have so much to share with shipmates,” he noted. “This class enhanced my knowledge and will help me set efficient goals aboard ship while sustaining high morale among the crew.”
He added, “If you come to the Paul Hall Center to upgrade, you will learn a lot, because the instructors will work with you and teach you. Thank God for the SIU and our strong leaders.”
A frequent upgrader who sails from Tacoma, Wash., Mohamed said that in addition to learning or refining skills that will help him aboard ship, the course reminded him that “the SIU has shown me the right way, and the school has given me opportunities to acquire training that leads to security and a way to earn a living and support my family. The SIU has given me so many opportunities.”
Mohamed, who joined the SIU in 2003, said he has sailed around the world several times, and he urged fellow mariners to support the union’s voluntary political action fund (SPAD) as well as the Maritime Defense League (MDL) “to keep our jobs going and getting more ships.”
He described the Paul Hall Center as “a great facility,” and encouraged the apprentices to “take full advantage of everything the union and the school offer. Think ‘safety first’ and listen and ask questions.
“God bless America and God bless the SIU!”
Next to the podium was Rosales, who joined the SIU in 1999 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., which is still his home port.
He said the class will make him “a better leader aboard ship. My experience at Piney Point has been excellent. The teachers are fantastic.”
Rosales said the SIU has been “essential to me and my family, and I thank the union leadership for that.”
Carrying on a tradition of recertification graduates addressing apprentices, he concluded, “You can stand where I stand today. Put in the effort and hard work.”
Cleofe Bernardez Castro
Castro joined the union in 1992 in Hawaii and now sails from New York.
“I learned a lot in this class and I’m so proud to be a union member,” he said. “It was a pleasure to be here and I thank all the members of every department we met with. I had time to ask many questions and I will take the answers with me to the vessels.”
Castro said his career is a testament to the opportunities available through the SIU. He began sailing as an assistant butcher on the white ships.
But along with making progress, he also said it’s important to support the organization.
“It’s not what your union can do for you; it’s what you can do for your union,” he stated. “And what you can do is get out there and work to the best of your abilities. Protect the name of this organization…. I couldn’t be more proud of this union. Thank you so much for being there for me and my family.”
A Seafarer since 1991, Arauz joined in Houston and still ships from there.
Like his classmates, he said that in addition to honing safety skills and brushing up on maritime conventions, he was very interested to learn more about how politics affects the livelihoods of all SIU members.
He also enjoyed reuniting with several class members whom he’d sailed with at various times.
“We learn a lot at this school,” said Arauz, who has upgraded four times. “It’s important that students learn all they can when upgrading, and pass on important information when you go on the ships.”
Reflecting on his career, he added, “I’ve made a good living thanks to the SIU. Headquarters is working hard for us. Thanks!”
French became a Seafarer when the NMU merged into the SIU in 2001. Overall, though, he has sailed for more than 30 years.
He got the audience’s attention when mentioning that he already put his son through medical school and that his daughter currently is enrolled.
“I’m grateful and I thank our president, Mike Sacco, and all the other officials,” French said. “Thanks to the Paul Hall Center instructors, too. The school is awesome and they’re doing wonderful work here.”
Speaking to the trainees, he concluded, “Ask questions and work hard on the ships. You are the future of the SIU and you are the future of the U.S. Merchant Marine.”
Taking his turn at the microphone, Ahmed mentioned that he joined the SIU in 1977 in Algonac, Mich., and still ships from there.
He said the recertification class proved very worthwhile, and encouraged all SIU members to upgrade whenever possible. He also urged fellow Seafarers to donate to SPAD.
“This union has given me the opportunity to learn, to make money and to travel the world,” he added. “I thank the SIU for protecting our jobs and I thank the instructors here at the school. I’ve learned a lot of new information.
“To the trainees, take advantage of what the union and school offer you. This union is your best friend.”
Pointing out he was a member of Trainee Class 322 in 1980, Janics, who sails from Jacksonville, Fla., said the August membership meeting “feels like a family reunion. I’ve sailed all the way around the world. The union gave me an opportunity to have a good life, and for my family to have a good, stable life. That’s a fact.”
He thanked the dais officials by name and said he appreciated the behind-the-scenes look at how the union and school operate. Janics also encouraged fellow Seafarers to donate to SPAD: “Without it, our jobs could very well fall by the wayside.”
Wrapping up by addressing the apprentices, he said, “Work hard at school, learn from the instructors, and help each other here and on the ships. A question not asked is knowledge not learned.”
Ramos joined the NMU in 1977 in New York and became a Seafarer when the unions merged in 2001. His home port is Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
“Thank you to my union for many days of smooth sailing,” he said. “I’m grateful for your hard work and dedication. Thanks also to the instructors – this has been an informative course. It is fun but serious at the same time.”
Ramos described the school’s fire fighting training as “a real confidence builder,” and expressed similar sentiments about the CPR and First Aid course.
He told the apprentices, “You have a great opportunity here. Trust your union. In part, our legacies will be carried by you. Be professional, be proficient, work hard, and together we will all feel proud.”
Good-naturedly called “captain” because, at 68, he’s the oldest class member, Szabo joined the union in 2001 in Wilmington, Calif., and now sails from Tacoma.
“I’m really impressed with our whole organization and how terrific this school is,” he stated. “I know I’ll be a much better leader as a result of this class. The people who teach here are so dedicated and they care.”
After asking everyone else in the auditorium to join him in applauding the school’s staff and union officials, Szabo said the trainees had asked good questions when meeting with the bosuns during class.
“Keep asking them,” he continued. “Do your very best and keep up the good work.”