Year in Review

 

January 2016

 

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Looking back on many other years from the union’s perspective, it’s not always easy to immediately identify a clear-cut main storyline.

 

Unfortunately, when reflecting on 2015, the biggest story was obvious but tragic: the Oct. 1 sinking of the SIU-crewed El Faro, which claimed the lives of all 33 people aboard, including 17 Seafarers.

 

Following is a look back on the El Faro’s final voyage, as well as other significant stories from last year.

 

Gone But Not Forgotten

Despite initial hope that the El Faro was riding out the storm, when Hurricane Joaquin finally weakened and moved on from the Bahamas, the devastating reality hit home. While en route from Jacksonville, Florida, to Puerto Rico, the ship fell victim to the hurricane on Oct. 1, sinking in 15,000 feet of water. Along with the 17 SIU members who perished, 11 members of the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers were on board, as were five Polish nationals.

 

The last time all hands had been lost on an SIU-crewed ship was Oct. 24, 1980, when the SS Poet went down without a trace in the Atlantic. There were 34 mariners aboard, including 24 Seafarers.

 

The El Faro tragedy also evoked memories of the 1983 sinking of the National Maritime Union vessel Marine Electric, which claimed the lives of 31 of its 34 mariners. It sank in frigid waters off the coast of Virginia on Feb. 12.

 

The SIU members on the El Faro were Bosun Roan Lightfoot, ABs Carey Hatch, Jackie Jones, Jack Jackson, Brookie Davis and Frank Hamm, QEE Sylvester Crawford, RE1 Louis Champa, OMUs Anthony Thomas, German Solar Cortes and Joe Hargrove, GUDEs Mariette Wright, James Porter and Roosevelt Clark, Steward/Baker Theodore Quammie, Chief Cook Lashawn Rivera and SA Lonnie Jordan.

 

The AMO members were Capt. Michael Davidson, Chief Mate Steven Shultz, Second Mate Danielle Randolph, Third Mate Jeremie Riehm, Chief Engineer Jeffrey Mathias, Chief Engineer Richard Pusatere, First Assistant Engineer Keith Griffin, Second Assistant Engineer Howard Schoenly, Third Assistant Engineer Michael Holland, Third Assistant Engineer Mitchell Kuflik and Third Assistant Engineer Dylan Meklin.

 

The Polish riding gang consisted of Piotr Krause, Marcin Nita, Jan Podgorski, Andrzej Truszkowski and Rafal Zdobych.

 

When contact with the ship was lost, the SIU hall in Jacksonville, Florida, quickly became the gathering place for family members and other loved ones, and it also served as a briefing center with representatives from the Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board and ship operator TOTE Services. SIU President Michael Sacco and Executive Vice President Augie Tellez spent several days with the families.

 

Within a week of the sinking, the SIU established a memorial fund to benefit the families of the departed Seafarers. The union also received condolences from around the world, including messages from the White House and Congress, the AFLCIO and the International Transport Workers’ Federation.

 

The ship was located a month later but the vessel recorder remained missing.

 

Editor’s note: Please see the November 2015 issue of the Log for complete coverage.

 

New Tonnage

Throughout the year, the SIU welcomed new ships and vessel orders for its contracted fleet.

 

That influx included new work for members of the union’s Government Services Division, in the forms of the joint highspeed vessels USNS Trenton and USNS Brunswick as well as the mobile landing platform USNS Puller.

 

The world’s first LNG-powered containerships were built at General Dynamics NASSCO for TOTE Services: the Isla Bella and the Perla del Caribe.

 

Pasha’s car carrier Marjorie C entered service, while the heavy lift ship Ocean Grand reflagged under the Stars and Stripes, for operation by Intermarine on behalf of Crowley.

 

Aker Philadelphia Shipyard started construction on two Matson containerships and delivered the Crowley tanker Ohio. The yard also accepted an order for four additional tankers that will be SIU-crewed.

 

Popular commuter ferry company NY Waterway added a new vessel and announced plans for another one in the near future, while American Petroleum Tankers took delivery of the Lone Star State.

 

Construction began on a second Crowley combination container/roll-on-roll-off (ConRo) ship, the LNG-powered Taino. That vessel and its sister ship, the El Coqui, are being built at VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

 

Maersk Line, Limited continued replacing some of its older tonnage with newer vessels, and also accepted the oceanographic ship USNS Maury.

 

The SIU retained jobs on former Horizon ships that were acquired by Matson and Pasha, respectively.

 

Major Upgrades

Early in the year, the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education completed a multi-million dollar upgrade featuring new simulators and modernized classrooms. The project also included major improvements in the training and recreation center hotel and auditorium at the Piney Point, Maryland, campus.

 

In commemorating some of the milestones, the auditorium was named in memory of the late SIU Executive Vice President John Fay, while a new, multipurpose building was named in memory of Thomas Crowley Sr., an industry pioneer.

 

The school hosted Gen. Paul Selva, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, one day before he was nominated to serve as vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

 

That same week, the school hosted the annual Seafarers Waterfront Classic, benefiting the Wounded Warrior Anglers and the Paul Hall Center.

 

Contract Gains, Legislative Wins

Continuing a pattern of defying trends in other industries and in other segments of maritime, the union secured eight new contracts that boost wages while either maintaining or improving benefits. Fiveyear contracts were ratified at Great Lakes Towing and NY Waterway, respectively, while three-year agreements were reached at Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, Intrepid Personnel and Provisioning, Foss Maritime, Overseas Shipholding Group (inland), Penn Maritime, and G&H Towing.

 

In the legislative arena, the SIU helped secure three significant wins, working closely with other maritime unions and other allies.

 

Early in the year, the domestic maritime industry soundly turned back an attempt in the Senate to weaken the Jones Act, a key law that protects U.S. national, economic and homeland security. Jones Act supporters also fought off misguided attempts in Puerto Rico to chip away at the law by mistakenly blaming it for the territory’s financial woes.

 

Near the end of the year, Congress approved and President Obama signed bills renewing the charter of the U.S. Export- Import Bank and increasing funding for the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP). Both the bank and the MSP are vital to maintaining a strong U.S. Merchant Marine.

 

The SIU testified in favor of proposed Coast Guard rules improving mariner access to shore-side facilities.

 

The SIU of Canada scored several major wins for mariner rights and cabotage laws and helped defeat an anti-cabotage political incumbent.

 

Rescues and More

The Brotherhood of the Sea manifested itself in a handful of rescues. Those operations featured the Government Services Division vessels USNS William McLean and USNS Rappahannock and the Crowley ships Ocean Crescent, USNS Impeccable and Philadelphia Express.

 

Seafarers also continued another long tradition: philanthropy. SIU members voluntarily assisted others through projects in Tacoma, Washington; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Saipan; and the Philippines.

 


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