Cape Ray Returns to Hero’s Welcome


October 2014


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Click HERE to view photos from the ceremony

The SIU-crewed MV Cape Ray returned to its home port in Portsmouth, Virginia, Sept. 17 at the conclusion of its successful mission of neutralizing and destroying Syrian chemical weapons in the Mediterranean Sea. The Keystone-operated ship departed Hampton Roads Jan. 27 after the United Nations approved it as a chemical weapons destruction facility.


The 36 civilian mariners and 60 U.S. Army chemical weapons specialists aboard the vessel arrived home to well-deserved fanfare which included a welcoming and formal awards ceremony Sept. 19 at the General Dynamics, Earl Industries shipyard in Portsmouth. It was attended by high-ranking officials from the union, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Military.


Participating in the official ceremony were: U.S. Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen; Rear Adm. David Baucom, U.S. Transportation Command; Ms. Shari Durand, executive director, Defense Threat Reduction Agency; Maj. Gen. Jay Santee (USAF, Ret.), former deputy director, Defense Threat Reduction Agency; and Carmen J. Spencer, joint program executive officer, Chemical and Biological Defense. SIU Vice President Contracts George Tricker and Norfolk Port Agent Georg Kenny represented the SIU.


Also in attendance were Donald Kurz, president, Keystone Shipping Services, Inc.; Rear Adm. Mark Buzby (U.S. Navy, Ret.), former commander, U.S. Military Sealift Command (MSC) and a true ally of the SIU; and a host of other notable figures from the DOT, MSC and maritime transportation industry.


“The Maritime Administration is proud to welcome home the U.S. Merchant Marine crew of the MV Cape Ray,” said Jaenichen, who served as the event’s keynote speaker. “Thanks to dedicated U.S. mariners like those we honor today, people around the world continue to see the American flag as a symbol of hope.


“This vessel and her crew show that MARAD’s fleet of Ready Reserve ships stands ready to support the nation’s armed forces and most importantly, national and economic security,” he told those in attendance.


“On behalf of President Obama and Secretary Anthony Foxx, I’d like to thank you for continuing the U.S. Merchant Marine’s proud legacy of service and sacrifice for our freedom and our prosperity,” he said to members of the Cape Ray crew. “You accomplished unprecedented work supporting the absolute neutralization of the most dangerous chemicals weapons prepared in Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.


“Your achievements are unparalleled and your remarkable contributions ensure that the chemical weapons arsenal cannot be used against the Syrian people,” Jaenichen concluded. “Thank you for a job well done…. The people in that part of the world are certainly indebted to you.”


Keystone President Kurz also spoke to those present.


“Keystone Shipping Co. and its affiliates have been proud partners of the United States government for more than 90 years,” he said. “During times of war and peace, during missions of mercy and rescue, Keystone has always answered the call to serve.


“I could not be more proud of the crew of the Cape Ray, the entire Keystone Shipping team, and all the many people who made this mission a success,” he concluded. “They accomplished something no one had ever tried: They destroyed, at sea, one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons. In doing so, they helped make the world a little safer, and we are all grateful for their service.”


Although not present at the ceremony, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a Pentagon press release, also congratulated the Cape Ray crew for the successful completion of their mission. According to the release, Hagel called the ship captain to commend the crew. The secretary said that by ridding the world of these materials, they have helped make an important and enduring contribution to global security.


Secretary Hagel expressed his gratitude for the crew’s service, dedication, and expertise, noting that with the world watching, they performed flawlessly every step of the way – despite a very long deployment, and a complex operation that required careful coordination with our international partners. The secretary lauded the crew for conducting every aspect of the mission in a highly professional manner, with strict adherence to safety and with no impact to the surrounding environment, and said that they should all be very proud of what they’ve accomplished to help reduce the threat posed by chemical weapons.


Following presentations by other ceremony participants, the crew and the vessel received formal recognition for the historic mission which lay waste to some 600 tons of deadly Syrian chemical weapons. Jaenichen presented each crew member with the Merchant Marine Medal for Outstanding Achievement and bestowed the Maritime Administration’s Professional Ship Award upon Keystone and the Cape Ray.


 The Merchant Marine Medal for Outstanding Achievement “is awarded to U.S. Merchant Mariners who have participated in an act or operation of humanitarian nature directly related to an individual or groups of individuals,” according to MARAD. The Administrator’s Professional Ship Award is given to RRF/National Defense Sealift Fleet Ships “that achieve the highest degree of readiness, performance, efficiency, reliability, productivity and safety.”


 SIU members receiving medals during the ceremony were: Bosun William Lima, ABs Mark Brownell, Jerry Sobieris, Timothy Squire, Walter Ott and Shaun Wood; GVA/OS Alex Rodriquez; QEEs Mark Maduro and Kevin Quinn; Oilers Joel Bell, John Greko and Fatim Rashed; Wiper Ivan Vargas; Chief Steward Louis Johnson; Chief Cooks Alba Ayala, Marcus Logan and Anthony Rutland; and SAs Kevin Arroyo and Sheneisha Thompson.


Captain Rick Jordan, who was at the helm of the Cape Ray on its trip home and during much of the mission, lauded the performance of SIU crew members during the voyage.


“The SIU crew performed outstandingly,” he said. “Everyone from top to bottom did very well, but I’d especially like to commend the steward department. During this mission, they had no more resources than they would for a crew of 28, but they had to provide for 130 people on a daily basis. Somehow they pulled it off…. We had meals around the clock…. They were great.”


The captain continued, “With respect to the other crew members … people should not be of the impression that all a crew does is run the ship (or) that they had nothing to do with what’s going on below. We were always going down there, we were always having to support the chemical folks with moving containers around and lashing them down…. Those guys from our SIU crew were right up against that stuff … from the time it came aboard. Remember, that was dangerous, dangerous stuff that we were doing. And they stepped up, didn’t flinch and basically said let’s sail, we’re all in.”


Bosun Lima also had words of praise noting that everyone rose to the occasion.


“It was a challenging mission for everyone, but all of our members came through with flying colors,” he said.


Lima attributed the crew’s success to their individual overall skills and preparedness.


“The SIU members who made this trip are very talented and well-trained,” he said, “And they proved it once again. To complete a dangerous mission like this with zero mishaps of any kind shows how good they are. Everyone in the union should be proud of them as I am.”


Two other members of the crew also shared their views on the historic mission.


“I came aboard the ship during the chemical processing stage in Spain,” said AB Squire, who sails from Norfolk, Virginia, and has been a member for 14 years. “It was kind of scary at first because I did not know that we would have to wear gas masks…. I really did not know what was going on (at first), but later on things settled down for me and everything went pretty smooth.


“We went around the Mediterranean while the specialists were processing the chemicals. The days soon began to go by and it became pretty much routine for us,” Squire added. “All in all though, it was a good trip.”


AB Ott concurred, noting, “The trip went good. We did not encounter any problems during this mission and that’s the main thing. Everyone did their jobs safely and everything went well. I volunteered for this mission, I didn’t have any reservations about getting involved with it and if called upon, I’d gladly do it again.”



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