Year’s Top Stories: Progress, Piracy, Hudson ‘Miracle’

February 2010

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In the year 2009, some of the noteworthy stories for the SIU also made headlines around the world.

From the “Miracle on the Hudson” to the early-April pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama, Seafarers were in the news – and were heralded for their heroic actions.

Thankfully, not all of the significant events involved life-threatening drama. Despite the lousy economy, the union continued welcoming new tonnage into its contracted fleet. Shipping inevitably slowed due to the recession, but members still had plenty of opportunities to go to sea.

Additionally, and among other enhancements, the SIU-affiliated school in Piney Point, Md., added a new training vessel that promises to boost many of its curriculums.

The following is a brief recap of these and other notable stories from 2009.

Elections, NY Waterway, Piracy
The year began with a committee of rank-and-file Seafarers confirming results of voting for national officers of the Atlantic, Gulf, Lakes and Inland Waters District/NMU (which ended on the final day of 2008). Among those elected or re-elected to four-year terms were President Mike Sacco, Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, Vice President Contracts George Tricker, Vice President Atlantic Coast Joseph Soresi, Vice President Gulf Coast Dean Corgey, Vice President West Coast Nick Marrone, Vice President Great Lakes Tom Orzechowski and Vice President Government Services Kermett Mangram.

Elsewhere, Seafarers were in the ranks of the nearly 300-person ensemble from America’s labor unions who on Jan. 20 formally participated in the inaugural parade for Barack Obama, the nation’s 44th president and a strong ally of the U.S. Merchant Marine.

Members sailing aboard SIU-contracted NY Waterway ferries on Jan. 15 rescued the vast majority of the 155 passengers and crew from a US Airways jet that crash-landed in the Hudson River. (The other dozen individuals also were rescued.) The incident quickly became known as the Miracle on the Hudson, as no lives were lost and almost no significant injuries were reported.

Seafarers who took part in the rescue said their training paid off – including safety classes they completed at the Paul Hall Center. Later, they were recognized with various public service awards.

The Obama administration immediately backed up its commitment to working families, as the president signed several pro-worker executive orders. He also announced a new “Task Force on Middle Class Working Families,” chaired by Vice President Joe Biden.

On April 8, pirates attacked the Maersk-owned, Waterman-operated Maersk Alabama hundreds of miles from Somalia’s northern coast. The crew of SIU, MEBA and MM&P members never lost control of the ship, but the vessel’s master, Capt. Richard Phillips, was taken hostage aboard a lifeboat, where he remained for several days. U.S. Navy snipers eventually eliminated Phillips’ captors and freed the captain.

As the story unfolded, the plague of Somalia piracy finally received the attention long called for by the international maritime community. Legislative initiatives and other anti-piracy efforts followed, and they continue to unfold into 2010.

Other SIU ships were attacked during the year, including the Liberty Sun, USNS Lewis and Clark, MV Harriette and – almost certainly by coincidence – the Maersk Alabama again, in November. In each case, the mariners aboard the U.S.-flag ships emerged safe, notwithstanding harrowing moments.

New Tonnage
The SIU throughout the year welcomed all sorts of new vessels into its contracted fleet.

On the West Coast, the successful T-AKE program continued. Members of the union’s Government Services Division saw three more dry cargo/ammunition ships enter service: the USNS Carl Brashear, USNS Matthew Perry and USNS Wally Schirra. All of the vessels in that series are being built at union-contracted NASSCO.

NASSCO also continues constructing commercial tankers including three that were delivered in 2009: the SIU-crewed Pelican State, Golden State and Sunshine State. Those ships are being managed by Crowley, a move that preserves SIU jobs.

The other current new tanker program, based at union-contracted Aker Philadelphia Shipyard, also forged ahead. Joining the Overseas Shipholding Group fleet last year were the Overseas Boston, Overseas Nikiski and Overseas Cascade.

APL added four U.S.-flag vessels: the Pearl, Cyprine, Agate and Japan. Those ships sail on a “Suez Express” run, delivering cargo to the Middle East and ports in New York, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.

Maersk Line, Limited completed a fleet upgrade which saw the company reflag nine modern vessels under the Stars and Stripes. Those ships replaced nine older, smaller ones.

Crowley Maritime pushed forward with its series of new articulated tug-barge units. The company christened the ATBs Commitment/650-6 and Pride/650-7. More are on the way.

New tonnage arrived in the form of the heavy lift ship Ocean Charger, flagged in under the American flag and operated by Pacific-Gulf Marine for Intermarine LLC.

The car carrier Liberty Pride also hoisted the Stars and Stripes and joined Liberty Maritime’s fleet.

U.S. Shipping christened the ATB Corpus Christi/Petrochem Supplier.

Sealift Inc. acquired the Rio Bogota, reflagged it American and renamed it the Mohegan. Sealift also won separate contracts for the charter of the MV Bernard Fisher and the operation of the MV John Chapman, signaling job retention for Seafarers.

SIU jobs also were maintained when 3PSC was awarded a contract to operate six oceanographic ships.

Additionally, the union gained new z-drive tugs (Lexie M and Hunter M) operated by G&H Towing for Bay Houston Towing.

School Days, TWIC and More
The Paul Hall Center added the G-Force, a state-of-the-art tug that will be utilized starting in 2010. The school also expanded its “distance learning” offerings, and earned a county award for food safety standards.

In mid-April, the deadline arrived for the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program. At the same time, the Coast Guard began issuing the new merchant mariner qualification credential (MMC), which through a five-year phase-in period will replace the old merchant mariner document/z-card.

Seafarers continued their strong support of our troops by delivering MRAPs and other vital materiel wherever and whenever needed. They also participated in important military exercises including JLOTS and Cobra Gold. The union in late November completed a welcome move to a new hall in Jacksonville, Fla.

The SIU joined other labor organizations and supporters in pushing for enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act and health insurance reform.

Contracts were ratified at Great Lakes Dredge & Dock, Moran Towing of Texas, Seabulk Towing, NCL America, Brusco Tug and Barge, Laken Shipping, Erie Sand and Gravel, and G&H Towing.

Michael Sacco was re-elected president of the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department. During MTD meetings in February and September, key representatives from the government, military and industry pledged their ongoing support for the U.S. Merchant Marine.

Longtime SIU backer Rich Trumka was elected president of the AFL-CIO. He succeeded John Sweeney, another friend of the Seafarers, who retired.

The Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan awarded $132,000 in scholarships to SIU members and their dependents.

SIU-contracted companies including Maersk Line, Limited, Crowley and Alaska Tanker Company reached safety milestones.

SIU halls added new, electronic shipping boards and began the changeover to a state-of-the-art upgrade to the shipping and registration system – one that includes new scanners, computers and faster network connections. The new system is known as SMIS (Seafarers Management Information System).

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