SIU Members Aid Sandy Victims

 

December 2012

 

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When Superstorm Sandy pummeled the East Coast in late October, SIU members sprang into action. The New York-New Jersey region needed all the help it could get, and Seafarers were prepared to assist in any way they could.

 

“We keep the necessary people and stand ready at a minute’s notice to assist in whatever the endeavor may be,” said SIU Director of Manpower Bart Rogers. “People depend on us to be ready and they appreciate that we are.”

 

In accordance with direction from the Obama administration, the SIU worked to rapidly to crew three New York-bound relief vessels mere hours after the storm made landfall. The ships would serve as a sort of floating hotel that provided housing, hot food and showers to hundreds of emergency responders working to deal with the storm’s aftermath.

 

Upon hearing the activation orders, Rogers said, the response was swift.

 

“The hurricane hit on Monday and Tuesday and we crewed the ships on Wednesday,” he said. “Everybody wants to be able to help and do their part in any way they can. Being able to feel like you’re making a difference inspires a lot of people.”

 

The Baltimore-based, Crowley-operated SS Wright, along with the training ship Kennedy from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, docked at Staten Island’s Home Port Pier to house FEMA community relations surge personnel and American Red Cross teams. The training ship Empire State, from Fort Schuyler, N.Y., sailed to the SUNY Maritime Academy in the Bronx to support FEMA community relations surge personnel.

 

Rogers said the 62 Seafarers who crewed the three ships came from around the East Coast, many of them from areas that were devastated by the storm. There is currently no timeframe on when the ships and their crews might return home.

 

“It’s a pretty big commitment to ask someone to leave their home in a storm like that to crew a ship. Even being in the heart of the storm, they rallied and did a really good job of getting these ships together,” he said. “A lot of people made a lot of sacrifices.”

 

That sacrifice was spread across the maritime industry. In a letter to President Obama, the American Maritime Partnership (AMP) said it would do whatever was required to help those affected by the storm.

 

“Nothing is more important right now than the safety and security of our fellow Americans,” the letter read. “Our industry is working around the clock responding to this emergency.”

 

The help was definitely needed. Early estimates showed the storm caused nearly $50 billion in property damage alone. Thousands saw their homes ravaged, while more went without power for weeks.

 

Due to storm-related disruptions, New York and New Jersey experienced severe fuel shortages and resorted to gasoline rationing. To help alleviate that problem, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a blanket Jones Act waiver to allow additional ships to transport petroleum products from the Gulf of Mexico to Northeastern ports.

 

Re-affirming its commitment to helping storm-ravaged citizens, AMP said it would not stand in the way of the Jones Act waiver and would do whatever it could to help alleviate the fuel shortage.

 

“Our industry is already actively facilitating the movement of petroleum and other products in the Northeast. A fleet of American vessels are standing by ready to assist as harbors and terminals open,” AMP said in its letter to the administration. “We are not aware of any circumstances where American vessels have not been available to meet transportation needs. However, in certain circumstances existing law permits the granting of Jones Act waivers when no American vessels are available. In those circumstances, we will not oppose waivers that are necessary to facilitate the delivery of petroleum products into the regions affected by Hurricane Sandy. That has been our position in previous similar national emergencies, and that is our position today.”

 

Seafarers weren’t the only union members lending a hand. Trade unionists from practically every sector pitched in with the relief effort. There were the Fire Fighters who put out storm-related fires, Transport Workers who got New York’s flooded subway system back in order, Utility Workers who repaired downed power lines, Electrical Workers who restored power, Letter Carriers who delivered mail through the storm and Laborers who cleared debris from the streets.

 

“Most of the work repairing and rebuilding the storm-ravaged areas will be done by talented and hardworking union members,” the AFL-CIO wrote on its website. “Many of the organizations dealing with Sandy’s devastation emphasize the importance of union workers’ expertise and skill.”

 

As the work continues, many are reminded of 2005 and Hurricane Katrina. Back then, the SIU also mobilized ships and provided shelter for workers. Those ships were deployed for months.

 

“It’s very similar. Katrina dealt with a lot of flooding and so has Hurricane Sandy,” Rogers said, adding that one difference was the New York-New Jersey region wasn’t accustomed to such weather.

 

“They’ve never seen a storm surge like this before,” he said.

 

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