Seafarers Help Mobilize Ships, Donate to Earthquake Victims

February 2010

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USNS ComfortFollowing a magnitude-7 earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12, the SIU quickly stepped up to assist in what promises to be a very lengthy and challenging relief mission.

At press time, no fewer than a dozen Seafarers-crewed vessels were involved in the Haiti action, officially titled Operation Unified Response.

Additionally, the union reactivated its Seafarers Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF), partly in response to requests from members who wanted to donate money to the humanitarian cause (scroll down for more information).

The overall devastation in Haiti is difficult to quantify, but on Jan. 25 the Haitian government increased the confirmed death toll to 150,000. Officials also said that the number undoubtedly will grow, possibly to 200,000.

Within the first few days after the earthquake, several Seafarers-contracted ships were activated for the relief mission, and several others (already in full operating status) were assigned to it. They included the hospital ship USNS Comfort, the rescue and salvage vessel USNS Grasp, the dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Sacagawea and the replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn – all crewed in the unlicensed positions by members of the SIU Government Services Division.

1st Lt. Jack LummusAlso mobilized were the oceanographic ships USNS Henson and USNS Sumner (operated by 3PSC), the prepositioning vessels 1st Lt. Jack Lummus and PFC Dwayne T. Williams (American Overseas Marine) and, from the Ready Reserve Force, the crane ships Gopher State and Cornhusker State (Interocean American Shipping), the tanker Petersburg (also Interocean American Shipping) and the heavy-lift vessel Cape May (Ocean Ships).

When those vessels and others were sent to help the earthquake victims, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood stated, “It is another example of why our country’s merchant marine is so important. Sending these ships will help those on the front line of this effort save as many lives in Haiti as possible. These ships will add crucial capabilities by supporting operations to move large volumes of people and cargo.”

Maritime Administrator David Matsuda added, “Once again the U.S. Merchant Marine is answering the call for assistance, as it has done since our nation began. These ships and skilled crews are ideally suited to assist in Haiti by providing unique capabilities. One cargo ship can carry as much as 400 fully loaded cargo planes.”

While most of the ships blended into the enormous operation, the Comfort attracted immediate attention, partly because its services are so desperately needed. The floating hospital received its first Haitian patients late at night Jan. 19, delivered by a helicopter from the USS Carl Vinson.

Hours later, the Comfort dropped anchor off the coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Since then, there’s been no slowdown aboard the 894-foot vessel, which has had multiple operating rooms running 24 hours a day.

According to the U.S. Military Sealift Command (MSC), the Comfort usually is kept in reduced operating status in Baltimore, with a “caretaking crew” of 18 CIVMARS “and about 60 Navy medical personnel who maintain the shipboard medical facilities, equipment and supplies.” The vessel has a five-day activation period, but for the Haiti mission, shipboard personnel had the Comfort ready to sail in three days.

MSC reported that the vessel is carrying a crew of 67 CIVMARS, 560 medical workers “and an approximately 110-person contingent of support personnel.”

The Comfort also was in the news last year, when it sailed in Operation Continuing Promise from April to July. That mission involved civic assistance in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Antigua and Barbuda, Panama, Colombia, El Salvador and Nicaragua. More than 100,000 patients were treated.

Seafarers Disaster Relief Fund Accepts Donations for Haiti

In order to assist in the Haitian relief effort, the union is accepting donations to the Seafarers Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF). Money collected by the SDRF will be presented to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s Earthquake Relief for Haitian Workers’ Campaign. With limited exceptions, anyone may donate through the SDRF – you don’t have to be an SIU member. (The SDRF cannot accept contributions from a service provider for the union or the SIU Plans, or from a Seafarers-contracted company or any of such a company’s representatives.)

Checks should be made payable to Seafarers Disaster Relief Fund. Donations by check or money order may be made at SIU halls or may be mailed to:

Seafarers Disaster Relief Fund
c/o Secretary-Treasurer’s Office
Seafarers International Union
5201 Auth Way
Camp Springs, MD 20746

Additionally, cash donations may be made at the halls. Anyone making a cash donation will receive a receipt.

Please note that donations are not tax-deductible.

SIU Members Making Donations

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