El Faro Memorial Dedicated in Jacksonville


November 2016


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SIU Members at Sea and Ashore Observe Anniversary of Tragic Loss


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SIU President Michael Sacco opened his speech at the at the SIU hall in Jacksonville, Florida, on Oct. 1 with a reminder: “One year ago, I promised that we will never forget the men and women of the El Faro’s final crew. Today, both here and in Piney Point, Maryland, the SIU is living up to that solemn pledge.”

In early October 2015, the maritime community was rocked with the loss of the 33 crew members of the roll-on/roll-off containership El Faro, operated by Tote Maritime. The vessel, crewed in all unlicensed positions by SIU members, sank near the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin. (At that time, the exact date of the sinking wasn’t known, but it eventually was determined that the ship went down on Oct. 1.)


One year later, many of the families and friends of those lost gathered at the Jacksonville hall for a time of remembrance, as well as the dedication of a memorial lighthouse built on the property. The lighthouse, adorned with 33 stars and paid for with a donation made by the union, serves as a daily reminder of the 17 SIU members, 11 members of the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers (AMO) and five Polish nationals who perished on that fateful voyage.


The ceremony began with an emotional address from Capt. Jeffrey Dixon, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville, who offered his heartfelt condolences as well as advice on coping with the loss. Dixon told the crowd of roughly 300 attendees, “It does get better.… You just have to take one step. And then another. Take one day at a time, and it gets a little easier.”


He made it clear that his speech was not being made on behalf of the Coast Guard, but that his remarks were meant as a personal conveyance of sympathy to the families gathered outside the hall. He described having to relay the news that the Coast Guard was suspending their search as one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do.


He was followed by speakers who offered sentiments of support and perseverance, including President Sacco, Assistant Vice President Archie Ware, AMO President Paul Doell, and a representative from the Office of Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida.) SIU Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, Vice President Government Services Kermett Mangram and Vice President Gulf Coast Dean Corgey were also in attendance.


Sacco said, “This monument here in Jacksonville is a fitting tribute to the 33 individuals who were lost in the hurricane one year ago. It’s a reminder of the bravery it takes to go to sea under any circumstances. And it’s a permanent fixture that honors the SIU members, AMO members and Polish riding-gang members who last set sail from this port and left us last year.”

In addition to the lighthouse, several other memorials have been added to the union hall, including a brick display that includes the names of all 17 SIU members who served aboard the El Faro, as well as many gifts donated by members.


During his remarks, Ware informed all those in attendance that, in the face of such personal tragedy, relatives of El Faro crew members James Porter and Frank Hamm will soon depart Florida and attend the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education as part of the apprentice program. Additionally, members of Jackie Jones, Jr.’s family are currently sailing as C-book SIU mariners, continuing a legacy of service under the U.S flag.


Following the remarks, President Sacco was presented with a memorial plaque created by Bob Hunt, a retired Jacksonville local who followed the story and became deeply involved. Hunt attended every National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing on the sinking, and decided to donate the plaque a token of his empathy for the families.


Members of each family in attendance also received mementos of the anniversary, in both a public presentation and a private affair inside the union hall.


After the event at the union hall, invited guests attended a separate memorial dedication hosted by Tote at nearby Dames Point. The waterfront park located there was renamed the El Faro Memorial Park, marked by another lighthouse statue, the beam of which points southeast toward Puerto Rico. Eventually, a similar lighthouse will be installed in Puerto Rico, with its beam pointed toward Jacksonville. Sacco, Heindel and Ware were in attendance.


The park includes a memorial walk, which will be decorated with personalized nameplates from each of the families. The path itself is aligned with the nautical route between Jacksonville and San Juan, the intended destination of the El Faro.


The SIU also conducted a brief ceremony in Piney Point, where a formal dedication had taken place earlier in the year. (The previous ceremony involved memorial bricks, a plaque and a bell inscribed with the ship’s name that is affixed to a miniature lighthouse.)


During the recent ceremony at the school, remarks were offered by SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez and Vice President Great Lakes Tom Orzechowski. Vice President Atlantic Coast Joseph Soresi read the “Seamen’s Prayer,” and Port Agent Pat Vandegrift read the 33 names as Apprentice William Cannon rang the bell.


A lifelong Seafarer who grew up in an SIU family, Tellez noted that the El Faro was the fourth Seafarers-crewed vessel lost that he has personally been involved with, one way or another.


“These are things that happen,” he said. “These are the perils of the sea…. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. We should be aware of it but we shouldn’t be afraid of it.”


He described the El Faro’s sinking as “one of those situations when everything converged to make a bad thing happen to good people.”


In addition to remembering the El Faro crew, he asked that everyone at the gathering also keep in mind all Seafarers whose lives have been lost at sea dating back to the union’s earliest years.


Meanwhile, many SIU members at sea on Oct. 1 also conducted memorial ceremonies, while moments of silence were observed at all SIU halls at 11 a.m. local time.


The NTSB’s investigation into the contributing factors of the loss is ongoing. The vessel’s voyage data recorder (VDR) was recovered, and the data is in the process of being analyzed. Once the final audio transcript has been prepared, the NTSB will schedule a final Marine Board of Investigation hearing.


It is unknown whether the families will get to hear any of the audio recovered from the VDR. According to at least one published report, after the agency has concluded its investigation, the VDR itself will be returned to Tote, who can decide whether or not to release the audio to the families.


The SIU members aboard the ship 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 American Maritime Officers (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.



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