SIU Members Honored at AOTOS Event

December 2010

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The United Seamen’s Service (USS) on Nov. 12 hosted its annual Admiral of the Ocean Sea (AOTOS) event, and SIU crews were among those recognized during the gathering in New York City.


American Maritime Officers President Tom Bethel and Crowley Maritime Corporation Vice Chairman/Executive Vice President William Pennella received the primary AOTOS awards. The SIU, AMO, Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association, International Longshoremen’s Association, and International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots received “Special AOTOS Recognition Awards” for their organizations’ efforts in Operation Unified Response, the disaster-relief mission in Haiti. Gen. Duncan McNabb, commander, U.S. Transportation Command, presented those awards.


Other honorees included the civil service mariners (CIVMARS) from the hospital ships USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy. Members of the SIU Government Services Division fill the unlicensed positions on both ships. They received “Honored Seafarer” plaques, as did the officers and crew of MV Taku of the Alaska Marine Highway System and a Coast Guard petty officer who rescued an entire family from a lake accident.


Also, U.S. Military Sealift Command Executive Director Richard Haynes was given a Special AOTOS Recognition plaque as he plans his retirement after a 34-year career. Haynes serves as principal advisor to MSC Commander Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, who presented his plaque.


The plaque presented by General McNabb to SIU President Michael Sacco cited the service of Seafarers aboard a variety of vessels called upon for Haiti relief. The inscription noted the “speed and determination” of Seafarers who answered the call for help. It also credited SIU members for helping to uphold maritime labor’s “centuries-old tradition of answering our nation’s call … in the wake of the massive earthquake that struck Haiti.”


Admiral Buzby presented the award to the USNS Comfort, which was in reduced operating status in Baltimore on Jan. 12 when the earthquake struck. Just 77 hours later, after receiving orders to activate, the Comfort deployed to the Caribbean nation.


The first Haitian patients were on board by Jan. 19 as two earthquake victims arrived via helicopters. Anchored off the coast of Port-au-Prince, the Comfort immediately began receiving injured patients from local hospitals and international medical facilities on Jan. 20.


Overall, medical personnel aboard the ship treated 871 patients and performed 843 surgeries during their mission. CIVMARS provided vital support to the medical team, maintaining a reliable supply of fresh water and electricity to the operating rooms and patient wards. The mariners also transported 45 patients to the ship’s anchorage from shore and another 445 back to shore following their treatment. They also ensured the delivery of cargo ranging from blood supplies and medications to jet fuel, and maintained the Comfort as a livable space for 1,800 people.


The Mercy was docked near Ambon, Indonesia, when its chief mate noticed a fire aboard a nearby passenger ship. The blaze, which started in the engine room, potentially endangered other ships in the area.


Bosun’s Mate Cromwell Rafol and AB Anthony Jones were among the CIVMARS from the Mercy who deployed aboard a rigid hull inflatable lifeboat to help fight the fire. They assisted with the rescue of crew members from the abandoned passenger ship, too.


In accepting their AOTOS Awards, both Bethel and Pennella paid respect to the award recipients that preceded them and to American maritime labor.


Mariners “serve our nation’s economic interests in ways that too many Americans are not aware of,” Bethel said. “When they respond to natural disasters, as they did in Haiti and along our own Gulf Coast after hurricanes Rita and Katrina, they represent the human spirit at its most generous.


“When they deliver U.S. food aid to developing nations, they serve our nation’s diplomatic interests,” he added. “And when they crew up, operate and maintain government-owned and chartered sealift ships in defense emergencies, they serve U.S. national security interests, often without the recognition that goes so routinely and so appropriately to our armed forces.”


SIU President Sacco presented Bethel’s award.


Pennella, the son of a longshoreman, said, “I have always felt in awe of the social importance of the maritime labor movement. It allowed an entire generation of immigrants to join the middle class, educate their children and have a decent standard of living.


“I also strongly believe that if the labor movement had not fought hard to force corporations to share the wealth in the early 1900s, this great country could have faced a social revolution and unrest,” he added. In honoring his late father, he said: “He taught me to respect all workers and I was always proud that in my career I was never responsible for a work stoppage or strike.”


All proceeds from the AOTOS event benefit USS community services abroad for the U.S. Merchant Marine and those of other free world countries. A non-profit organization, the USS operates centers in eight foreign ports in Europe, Asia, and Africa and in the Indian Ocean, and also provides seagoing libraries to American vessels through its affiliate, the American Merchant Marine Library Association.

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AOTOS Recognition Award

SIU President Michael Sacco (right) accepts a Special AOTOS Recognition Award from Gen. Duncan McNabb, commander, U.S. Transportation Command. The plaque was given in acknowledgment of SIU members’ efforts in Operation Unified Response.