Lead Stories of 2010: New Tonnage, Haiti, Gulf Spill

January 2011

Back to Issue

Despite ongoing economic adversity throughout the country, the SIU experienced numerous gains in 2010, most notably including the addition of new tonnage and the ratifications of several new contracts. Other headlines from last year included Seafarers assisting in the humanitarian mission in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, and the U.S.-flag industry’s collective response to staggeringly erroneous attacks on the Jones Act following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.


The following is a recap of these and other noteworthy stories from 2010.


Unified Response


SIU members were among the first to mobilize for Haiti relief operations after that nation was struck by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12. 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. More than a dozen Seafarers-crewed ships would sail in Operation Unified Response.


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.”


Seafarers and the union contributed in other ways, too. The SIU reactivated its Seafarers Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) to collect monetary donations for the earthquake victims. A few months later, during meetings of the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department’s executive board, the SDRF donations were combined with other contributions from maritime labor; SIU and MTD President Michael Sacco and other officials presented a check to AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler for the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center’s Earthquake Relief for Haitian Workers’ Campaign. Altogether, the MTD and its affiliates donated more than $82,000, including donations from rank-and-file Seafarers.


Near the end of the year, SIU crews were honored by the United Seamen’s Service and the U.S. Transportation Command for their performance in Operation Unified Response.


New Ships, Contracts


Throughout the year, outright additions and replacement tonnage entered the SIU-contracted fleet. Four new-build programs generated many of those ships, but there were other gains as well.


At the NASSCO shipyard in San Diego, commercial tankers and military-owned dry cargo/ammunition ships were produced. The latter group included the USNS Charles Drew, USNS Matthew Perry and USNS Washington Chambers, all part of the Lewis and Clark-class of T-AKE vessels. Additionally, the Navy confirmed two additional orders for TAKE ships, bringing the total number of vessels in the class to 14.


The NASSCO-built, Crowley-operated tankers included the Evergreen State and Empire State, the final ships in a series of five.


Across the country, Aker Philadelphia Shipyard built more tankers for Overseas Shipholding Group: the Overseas Martinez, Overseas Anacortes and Overseas Chinook. As was the case at other facilities, the celebrations of the new builds were tempered by uncertain futures faced by many of the shipyard workers.


Crowley continued with its series of new articulated tug-barge units, introducing the Achievement/650-8 and the Innovation/650-9, while OSG added the Vision/350 and Express Marine launched the Freedom/EMI-2400.


Other gains included the American Roll-On/Roll-Off Carrier ship Endurance; Maersk Line, Limited’s RO/ROs Alliance Charleston and Alliance Beaumont; Liberty Maritime’s car carrier Liberty Promise; Intermarine’s heavy-lift ship Ocean Crescent; and AMSEA’s heavy-lift vessel BBC Houston. Also, SIU CIVMARS were part of the initial hybrid crew that sailed the USS Emory Land to Diego Garcia.


Meanwhile, Seafarers approved several new contracts that maintained benefits and boosted wages. Agreements were reached KK Integrated Shipping, Luedtke Engineering, Champion Auto Ferry, Puerto Rico Towing & Barge, Express Marine and E.N. Bisso, among other locations. At least two more contracts were being ratified as this edition went to press.


Gulf Cleanup, Jones Act


One of the top stories in the nation – not just in the maritime industry – was the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which began April 20 with a deadly oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. SIU members, including CIVMARS from the union’s Government Services Division, assisted in the months-long cleanup, but the tragedy quickly took a bizarre and job-threatening turn when some commentators and legislators wrongfully stated that a crucial maritime law called the Jones Act somehow was impeding operations.


Critics attacked President Obama for not waiving the Jones Act to supposedly open the door for additional assistance in the cleanup. At least one also charged that U.S. maritime unions were thwarting progress by their purported unwillingness to support a suspension of the law, which requires that all vessels operating between domestic ports be crewed, built, owned and flagged American.


Following that initial round of erroneous claims and inaccurate reporting, the truth gradually emerged. Statements from industry groups, senators, congressmen and the head of the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command, Admiral Thad Allen, exposed the critics’ arguments as flawed at best, as did certain news articles. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs did the same.


The Maritime Cabotage Task Force (MCTF), the largest coalition in the history of the domestic American maritime industry, repeatedly pointed out that the Jones Act – in addition to being vital for national security – generates around 500,000 American jobs and helps pump billions of dollars each year into the U.S. economy.


SIU President Sacco was a forceful spokesman for the Jones Act throughout this ordeal. His comments were picked up by news outlets, and those remarks helped set the record straight.


Rescues, Support from Military


SIU members upheld the finest traditions of the Brotherhood of the Sea by executing several rescues at sea. Crew members from the following vessels helped perform those missions: USNS John Ericsson, HSV Swift 2, MV Courage, Thomas Jefferson, Sealand Intrepid, Ocean Atlas and MV Resolve.


Military leaders including Gen. Duncan McNabb, commander, U.S. Transportation Command, and Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, commander, U.S. Military Sealift Command, reiterated their support for a strong U.S. Merchant Marine, including the laws and programs that help maintain a viable American-flagged, American-crewed presence.


Other Headlines


The union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education received top marks from the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center. The school also named a new training vessel in memory of the late SIU Executive Vice President John Fay, and broke ground on a waterfront revitalization project.


U.S. maritime unions throughout the year continued with anti-piracy efforts, both in domestic and international forums. Helping deliver the SIU’s message that our crews must be protected were President Sacco, Executive Vice President Augie Tellez and Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel.


The SIU helped develop on online petition against piracy that was part of the International Maritime Organization’s “Year of the Seafarer” campaign. The petition garnered more than 1 million signatures.


Secretary-Treasurer Heindel was elected chair of the Seafarers’ Section of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, thereby becoming just the second American to hold the prestigious post. (The other was the aforementioned John Fay.)


The Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan awarded $146,000 in scholarships to SIU members and dependents.


SIU jobs were retained as LMSR operating contracts were awarded to AMSEA and Patriot.


In the Government Services Division, the union and MSC reached agreements on allowances and habitability issues. Negotiations on CMPI 750 were completed, and negotiations on CMPI 610 continued. An agreement was reached on a new S&Q policy.

A new book, “America’s Seafarers,” was published, capturing the union’s history.

On Capitol Hill, the first maritime industry “Sail-In” delivered key messages about the need for a strong U.S. Merchant Marine. Maritime labor welcomed a number of provisions in the Coast Guard authorization bill, including a component designed to facilitate shore leave. A controversial health care reform bill was signed.


The IMO approved new amendments to the STCW Convention.


Finally, too many obituaries were written. Among those crossing the final bar were (in chronological order) retired officials Joe Perez (who passed away on the last day of 2009), Ted Babkowski and Carl Peth, and Paul Hall Center employees Sam Spalding and Marge DiPreta. The industry also said goodbye to a lifelong supporter in retired Sen. Ted Stevens, who died in a plane crash.

Share |