Nation Honors Mariners


June 2013


Back to Issue

Click HERE for a photo gallery from the event


The nation’s capital paused May 22 to honor the bravery and dedication of the U.S. Merchant Marine in a pair of ceremonies celebrating National Maritime Day.


The events took place at the Department of Transportation and featured the heads of the Military Sealift Command (MSC), the Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration, among other high-ranking Washington leaders. SIU headquarters officials were also present, as were several dozen trainees from the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education.


The audience, which included SIU President Michael Sacco, Executive Vice President Augie Tellez and Vice President Contracts George Tricker, heard from keynote speaker Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and several other officials about the storied history of the U.S. Merchant Marine and the possibilities for its future.


“I want to thank each one of you for being here today and supporting the maritime industry – one of the strongest industries in our economy, one of the strongest industries in America,” LaHood said.


While the history of the merchant marine was celebrated throughout the day, U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) used his speech to address the current challenges facing the U.S.-flag fleet and called on Washington to implement policies to strengthen its future.


“The Jones Act continues to come under attack by critics, despite the fact that Jones Act trades constitute a substantial component of U.S. shipyard activity, which as everyone here knows, is a necessity to maintain our national defense capability,” he said. “Cargo preference requirements continue to be whittled away, if not ignored, by federal agencies as if these requirements were a hindrance and not the law of the land.”


Under the Jones Act, all cargo shipped between American ports is required to travel on American-built, U.S.-flag vessels crewed by American citizens. Cargo preference, which guarantees a certain percentage of U.S.- produced aid, such as food, water, and medical supplies, is shipped on U.S.-flag vessels, was recently cut by Congress in a last-minute back-room deal related to a transportation bill.


Garamendi, who is the ranking member on the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, said that attacking those key maritime programs could only hurt the country’s economy and national security.


“Not only does this reduce the number of job opportunities for U.S. seafarers, it denies important cargoes to U.S. carriers, which also provide invaluable sealift capabilities when our armed forces are deployed abroad,” he said. “We should take steps to enhance and grow cargoes for American ships.”


Garamendi added that Maritime Day would be the perfect beginning for an effort dedicated to strengthening the U.S. Merchant Marine and preserving the country’s sealift capability.


“This year we would be wise to examine how we can reinvigorate the U.S.-flagged fleet, what we might do to rebuild and expand U.S. shipbuilding capacity and what we can do to ensure that American maritime transportation remains prominent in the discussion of our national freight policy,” he said.


Vice Adm. Mark D. Harnitchek, director of the Defense Logistics Agency, could certainly attest to the importance of U.S. Merchant Mariners to the armed forces. He spent much of his speech discussing the important role the U.S. merchant fleet plays in hauling much-needed supplies to soldiers in battle zones.


“It’s not just about the machines, it’s about the capability. And the capability you guys bring to the fight is eye-watering and awe-inspiring,” he said. “I sleep very well at night knowing that we can give you guys a mission and you’ll somehow figure it out.”


Harnitchek added the benefits of the U.S. Merchant Marine were monetary as well. The services provided by merchant mariners for the military would cost the government several billions of dollars to reproduce on its own.


“As far as I’m concerned, this is about the best bottom line you could ask for,” he said.


Honoring merchant mariners who have helped the country throughout the years, MSC Commander Rear Adm. Thomas Shannon presented a special wreath during the ceremony bearing the names of more than 400 retired and active mariners who had died in the past year. Shannon singled out several of the mariners listed, including GUDE Mike Andrucovici of the SIU.


“Great merchant mariners like Brother Mike … have contributed to our prosperity, security and independence since 1776,” Shannon said. “Today, they still move combat equipment in support of our brave men and women on the ground in a dangerous country called Afghanistan.”


Following Shannon’s speech, Paul Hall Center Unlicensed Apprentice Michael Pinnisi was among those tending the wreath, while fellow Unlicensed Apprentice Edward Grant rang eight bells in honor of the departed mariners.


While merchant mariners were celebrated for their wartime reliability, SUNY Maritime College President Rear Adm. Wendi Carpenter reminded the audience of the good American mariners do during times of domestic crisis.


In the wake of the devastation brought on by Hurricane Sandy late last year, SUNY Maritime College served as a staging ground for relief and recovery workers in the New York Area. The SIU-crewed ships SS Wright, TS Kennedy and TS Empire State were part of that effort, housing and feeding recovery workers for several weeks after the storm.


Carpenter, meanwhile, said such actions are the hallmark of the U.S. Merchant Marine.


“The spirit of the mariner is one of service,” she said. “Teamwork and that dedication to service know no boundaries.”


Other speakers at the Maritime Day celebrations included Maritime Administrator David Matsuda, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy Superintendent Rear Adm. Jim Helis and FEMA National Capital Region Director Steward Beckham.



Share |