Top Stories Include Cape Ray Mission, School Improvements

 

January 2015

 

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In a year with no shortage of important stories for the SIU, none gained more attention in 2014 than the international mission involving the Cape Ray, the Seafarers-crewed ship which helped neutralize and destroy Syrian chemical weapons in the Mediterranean Sea.


Other noteworthy developments for Seafarers and the union last year included gaining new tonnage, the start of a major upgrade at the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education, the opening of a new hall in Jersey City, New Jersey, and ongoing political fights aimed at preserving and revitalizing the U.S. Merchant Marine.


Following is a recap of those and other key stories from 2014.

 

Cape Ray
The Keystone-operated Cape Ray returned to its home port in Portsmouth, Virginia, Sept. 17 at the conclusion of its successful mission of neutralizing and destroying 600 tons of Syrian chemical weapons. The vessel departed Hampton Roads Jan. 27 after the United Nations approved it as a chemical weapons destruction facility.


As the unprecedented mission wound down, SIU crew members and others involved in the operation were praised by the White House, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Transportation. At a pier-side ceremony in Portsmouth, U.S. Maritime Administrator Chip 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.


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.

 

“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.”


New Tonnage

Despite challenges facing the American-flag industry and U.S. shipbuilding, many gains were made in 2014. To kick off the year, Aker Philadelphia Shipyard started production on the first of four new product tankers ordered by Seafarers-contracted Crowley Maritime. February saw the christening of the second SIU-crewed mobile landing platform (MLP), the USNS John Glenn, operated for the Military Sealift Command (MSC) by Ocean Shipholdings. That vessel was built at General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego.


Construction also began at NASSCO on the world’s first LNG-powered containership, which will be Seafarers-crewed and operated by TOTE Services. And, American Petroleum Tankers (APT) increased an existing NASSCO order from four ships to five, all of which will be operated by Crowley Maritime. The first three of those ships were under construction
by year’s end.

 

Two new Crowley tugs were also christened in 2014, the Ocean Sky and the Ocean Sun, both of which are crewed by SIU boatmen. The MV Capt. David I. Lyon was reflagged and became a MSC prepositioning ship, operated by TOTE.

 

In November, Seabulk Tankers took over operation of the Eagle Ford, which means more jobs for Seafarers. Around the same time, Pasha Hawaii launched the Marjorie C, a combination container and roll-on/roll-off vessel built at VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Mississippi.


Progress also continued on the military’s joint high-speed vessel (JHSV) new-build program, which means job growth for members of the SIU Government Services Division.


As in most years, not all of the news was positive. Late in 2014, Horizon Lines announced plans to sell off some of its operations and end its runs to Puerto Rico, although the union will retain some of the jobs associated with the remaining vessels.


Major Upgrades in Piney Point
A multi-million-dollar renovation and modernization began late in the year at the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education, highlighted by new, state-of-the-art simulators that should be ready for use in the first quarter of 2015. The ambitious project also includes classroom expansions, hotel improvements, and numerous technological additions that should facilitate learning at the Piney Point, Maryland, campus.


Overall, the work is slated for completion by late spring or early summer. That includes redoing all roads and walkways at the school, and various improvements at the library and the apprentice dorms in addition to new bridge, engine, crane and tugboat simulators.


Political Action
The heavily regulated nature of the maritime industry requires constant political action by the SIU, other maritime unions and additional stakeholders, and 2014 proved no exception.


In January, the SIU participated in a Maritime Administration symposium for developing a national maritime strategy; the union also took part in followup meetings. A month later, President Obama signed a $1 trillion Farm Bill offering mixed results in the Food for Peace fight, though largely leaving the program intact. In June, he signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, a bill expected to boost the nation’s ports and waterways.


The American-flag industry achieved at least temporary success in the effort to preserve the vital Export-Import Bank, which was extended until June 2015.

 

In joint testimony before a September hearing of the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, the SIU and other maritime unions stressed the need for America to maintain a strong U.S. Merchant Marine. The unions (and others testifying) spelled out how American mariners and U.S.-flag ships are crucial to the country’s national and economic security.

 

Earlier in the year, the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces conducted a hearing on the current state of U.S. sealift requirements and the challenges involved in maintaining an adequate-sized support fleet. Testimony from the U.S. Transportation Command, Navy, and Maritime Administration all underscored the need to revitalize the U.S. Merchant Marine, as did comments from some of the congressmen in attendance.


The SIU took part in the fifth annual maritime Sail-In, an event on Capitol Hill that has become a staple for the industry to showcase its value.

 

While the union has always had friends on both sides of the aisle, some results from the mid-term elections were quite difficult for maritime labor as a whole, though not because of party affiliations. A number of maritime stalwarts in both the House and Senate were defeated.

 

Rescues, New Hall and More
Several SIU-crewed ships upheld the finest traditions of the Brotherhood of the Sea, performing rescues. Those vessels included the Seafarers-crewed Liberty Grace, USNS Richard E. Byrd, and Manukai.

 

The union completed an historic move in mid-June, relocating its New York-area
operations to a new hall in Jersey City, New Jersey. Another move is on the way – the old Houston hall has been sold, and property for a new hall is being acquired.

 

Seafarers once again answered the call to duty as they mobilized for Operation United Assistance, sailing aboard the Cape Wrath and Cape Rise in the international fight against Ebola. Other SIU-crewed ships participated in military support exercises throughout
the year, including Pacific Horizon, MPFEX14, Freedom Banner, and Pacific Pathways.


The Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan awarded $132,000 in scholarships to SIU members and dependents, while the union’s health and wellness program gained momentum throughout the year.

 

Members ratified several new contracts, including agreements at NY Waterway, Starlight Marine, and Puerto Rico Towing & Barge. Those pacts all featured wage gains and other improvements.


Both the union and the Paul Hall Center continued efforts to help deal with the latest
amendments to the STCW Convention, some of which already have taken effect, others of which are being phased in.

 

The union also remained active around the globe, including regular participation with the International Transport Workers’ Federation, and International Maritime Organization.


SIU philanthropy was evident throughout the year, both at sea and ashore. Among the crews participating in charitable endeavors were those from the USNS Wheeler, USNS Dahl, and USNS Charlton. Shore-side charitable projects happened in Tacoma, Washington; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Piney Point, which hosted the second annual Waterfront Classic to benefit both the school and the Wounded Warrior Anglers.


Crossed the Final Bar
The SIU said goodbye to several friends and allies who passed away in 2014, including former Congressman James Oberstar (D-Minnesota); former head of the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department’s Greater St. Louis and Vicinity Port Council Richard “Dick” Mantia; ITF Inspector Arthur Petitpas; retired Dispatcher Jesse Solis; retired SIU Assistant Vice President Bobby Pomerlane; and former Paul Hall Center Director of Training Bill Eglinton.

 


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