President’s Report

 

November 2015

 

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SIU President Michael Sacco says the union will never forget the El Faro’s final crew

 

There is nothing easy about this month’s message, but right off the bat, I want everyone to know that it’s much, much more than simply a traditional phrase when I state that the SIU will never forget the men and women who were lost on the El Faro’s final voyage. We are building a memorial honoring all 33 of our brothers and sisters, and we will conduct a ceremony every year. It’s a tragic part of our union’s history, but it is a chapter that must be remembered.

 

I know that in modern times, news cycles tend to “move on” quickly. Attention spans are short, too, in this age of smart phones, constant connectivity and what has been described as overstimulation. For us, none of that matters when it comes to the mariners on the El Faro. They will remain in our hearts and on our minds.

 

As the tragedy unfolded, I knew my place was to be in Jacksonville with the families and our members. At our union hall, we also welcomed brothers and sisters from our affiliated American Maritime Officers, families of the Polish nationals who’d been aboard the El Faro, and executives from the company that owned and operated the vessel. I think we all needed to be together, grieving with one another and supporting each other.

 

It goes without saying, but the loss of 33 lives is devastating for all of us. In our line of work, this is our worst nightmare.

 

To the families, I want you to know that I personally understand the pain of losing a child, a sibling, a parent. I’ve lived through all of those terrible moments over the years. My hope is that the support of loved ones and friends, along with your faith, will help ease your burden enough to get through the months ahead. Obviously, financial support won’t ease the emotional pain, but I also hope that our Seafarers El Faro Assistance Fund – quickly established last month to help the families – will at least eliminate some of the monetary worries

 

We all know that the maritime industry can be dangerous. It goes with the territory.

 

And unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time SIU members have lost their lives in the line of duty. Going all the way back to World War II, the hazards of the job have caught up with us at different times and in different ways, whether through enemy attack or severe weather or equipment malfunctions or some other mishap.

 

Sometimes we don’t ever find out what went wrong. That was the case the last time an SIU-crewed ship was lost with all hands: the SS Poet back in 1980.

 

But again, that doesn’t make losing the El Faro’s crew any easier. We’re all grieving together and we’re all hurting.

 

Something else we have in common is that we all want answers, but that’s going to require patience. And the truth is there are parts of this equation we may never know.

 

Lastly, I debated whether to even bring this up, but there are some vultures who have tried to turn this tragedy into a referendum on the Jones Act. In my opinion they are dishonoring those who lost their lives on the El Faro. Actually, that’s the polite version. What I really think of those cold, calculating opportunists isn’t suitable for print.

 

I’m not going to let them politicize the passing of our members. They think we’re weak right now and they don’t care about their timing. But it is precisely in the names of the El Faro crew that I’m doubling down on my efforts and our union’s efforts to preserve the Jones Act, maintain American-flag shipping and boost the U.S. Merchant Marine. We will fight on in their honor.

 

We will remember them in other ways, too, but we owe it to those brothers and sisters to do everything possible to make sure their chosen industry remains intact.

 

Within our industry we have plenty of disagreements, but ultimately we are all part of the U.S. Merchant Marine. In a very real sense, we are one family, one crew.

 

May God bless all those who perished on the El Faro.

 

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