President's Column


December 2013


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Answering the Call Again


SIU President Michael Sacco says the U.S. Merchant Marine‘s response to the disaster in the Philippines reinforces the critical roles filled by America’s seafarers.


The Seafarers International Union engaged an environmentally friendly printer for the production of this newspaper. Not long after Typhoon Haiyan devastated much of the Philippines, Seafarers did what we always do in such situations. We jumped into action, lending assistance both on the job and as volunteers.


As of this writing in mid-November, at least a half-dozen SIU-crewed ships had mobilized for the relief mission, both from the private sector and from our Government Services Division. We have activated our Seafarers Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) and are working with our international maritime labor partners to make sure the donations specifically go to mariners and their families from the Philippines. I also know of at least one SIU-crewed ship that immediately took up its own collection for the relief effort even before we announced the SDRF activation.


I definitely want to thank all of our members who are pitching in for what promises to be a very long, difficult and complex mission. Our members and our contracted operators will do whatever we can for as long as it takes to get the job done.


But the main reason I’m writing about it is the timing. I find it very ironic that Seafarers once again are answering the nation’s call at a time when people in Congress and the administration act as if our industry doesn’t matter. The attacks on Food Aid haven’t gone away. The attacks on the Jones Act never stop. The fight for full funding of the Maritime Security Program will roll around again soon.


At times, I wonder if anyone in the nation’s capital has put two and two together, and realized that if the U.S. Merchant Marine goes away, there won’t be enough resources for America to respond to a natural disaster like the one in the Philippines. If we go away, our men and women in uniform will be at the mercy of foreign flags when it comes to delivering their life-sustaining cargo. If we go away, our economy will take a massive hit at a time when America simply can’t afford that kind of loss. And if we go away, we can’t be brought back later by simply placing some help-wanted ads and waiting for people to show up. This isn’t a news flash for people in our industry, but for those less familiar with it, you can’t just pluck someone off the street and call him a mariner. That may have worked a century ago. In this day and age, it takes sophisticated training and (heaven knows) a stack of credentials just to be able to climb a gangway.


The bottom line is that we are vital to U.S. national and economic security. And despite my frustration, we of course have many supporters on Capitol Hill and elsewhere who appreciate our value. That support isn’t taken for granted, and it also didn’t just fall from the sky. We have to constantly spread the word about our work.


As we head toward the winter holidays, my heart goes out to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. It’s tough to even comprehend such a tragedy, and it’s a reminder that we can never take tomorrow for granted.


I also send best holiday wishes to all of our members, retirees and their families, along with our officials and staff. At a time like this, I’m sure it’s not hard to count our blessings.

Again, thanks to everyone who has “turned to” for the relief mission, and here’s to safe, happy holidays for every Seafarer, whether you’re home with family or aboard ship.



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