Nine deck department Seafarers recently achieved the crowning triumphs of their respective upgrading careers when they graduated from the bosun recertification course at the union-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education (PHC) in Piney Point, Maryland.
In recognition of their ascent to the pinnacle of the deck department ladder, each received a certificate Aug. 7 during the union’s membership meeting at the PHC. In keeping with tradition, the graduates – Roberto Flauta, Albert Konning Jr., Marc Marcus, Hussein Mohamed, Walter Ritvalsky, Rodney Roberson Sr., Stig Sasse Jr., LBJ Bliss Tanoa and Torres Vazquez – also addressed union officials, fellow upgraders, trainees and guests who attended the meeting.
The two-week class features a blend of new and refresher hands-on training, classroom instruction, meetings with representatives from various union offices, and gatherings with personnel from the Seafarers Plans, among other activities.
During their presentations, the bosuns expressed gratitude for the opportunities they have been afforded to enhance their skills, improve their lives and those of their families, and become better shipmates to their brothers and sisters aboard SIU-contracted vessels. They collectively thanked the union leadership for its continued support, and the PHC vocational and hotel staffs for their excellent instruction and accommodations, respectively.
Ritvalsky was the first to take the podium. A military veteran, he signed on with the union in 1991 and hails from port of Norfolk, Virginia.
“I came into the union 26 years ago through the veterans’ program after serving six years in the U.S. Coast Guard,” he said. “Being a part of this brotherhood (the SIU) has given me a sense of belonging, made me an integral part of something bigger than myself and taught me the real meaning of self-worth.”
Reflecting on the overall experience of going through the recertification course, Ritvalsky said that spending in-depth, one-on-one time with the union leadership afforded him a working knowledge of what it takes to run the successful organization that the SIU is.
“Our union leadership and staff deserve true recognition for the outstanding job they are doing behind the scenes on our behalf,” he said. “And I encourage you continue to support them in all of their efforts. That includes your continued donations to SPAD because it really works.”
Ritvalsky then expressed his gratitude to the school’s instructors and staff for “implementing, running and being at the forefront of new technologies that impact the maritime industry. We have a world-class facility here with state-of-the-art equipment, training aids and up-to-date course materials,” he said. “The staff is very hands-on, warm and courteous. I encourage everyone to take advantage of the school and all it has to offer.”
Addressing the trainees, Ritvalsky said, “You only get out what you put in. So, invest in yourself and your future.” He continued by telling all present that knowledge is power. “The more (knowledge) you gain, the more powerful you become,” he said. “Take advantage of all the courses that you can here at the school and move up quickly.
“Once you go aboard ship, never hesitate to go to your bosun if you have concerns,” he concluded. “We represent you and are there for you. Always remember, we have all walked in your shoes.”
Rodney Roberson Sr.
Roberson has been going to sea under the SIU banner for some 25 years. He sails from the port of Philadelphia and is a veteran of both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps.
“I am the first and only member of my family to be a member of the U.S. Merchant Marine,” he told the audience upon taking the podium. “Being a merchant mariner has been the most exciting experience of my career.”
Having circumnavigated the globe aboard union-contracted vessels on more than one occasion, Roberson said he has met a lot of interesting people, experienced a variety of cultures and seen many interesting things. “The SIU has been good to me and my family over the many years I have sailed,” he said. “I extend my thanks to all who have given me the opportunity to have a better life. I send a special thanks to our union officials for all of their efforts; especially for keeping the SIU strong and well.”
Offering timely advice to the trainees, Roberson told them to study hard while at the school, become accustomed to working with classmates and to learn well the lessons being taught by their instructors.
“You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know,” he said. “You’re going to advance in life by what you’re going to learn and accomplish after you leave here. Once you get out to sea, continue to work hard carry your load and never be afraid to ask questions.”
In closing, he told the apprentices that the best leaders are grown from within the organization. “You have been chosen by the current leadership for this opportunity because of your recognized ability to lead your fellow teammates,” he said. “Remember, education does not stop after you graduate from here…. The acquisition of wisdom is a moral duty, not just something you do to advance in life.
“Be the leaders you were appointed to be and make your team the best of the best,” he concluded. “We, the few and the proud, we thank you, SIU.”
Marcus is a December 1970 graduate of the PHC apprentice program and has since returned to the school several times to upgrade his skills. A native of Baltimore, he currently sails from the Port of Jacksonville, Florida.
“I initially returned to the school in order to remain current with the industry’s requirements and to maintain my eligibility to sail,” he said. “The ability to upgrade has always been a benefit and I encourage everyone to take advantage of it as often as possible.”
Turning to his bosun recertification training experience, Marcus said it let him see what really goes on behind the scenes of the union’s daily operations.
“It was very interesting to realize how all of these intricacies are woven together,” he said. “For example, through our political agenda, we protect existing laws and introduce new legislation in concert with other maritime and labor organizations.
“The end result is keeping and creating jobs,” Marcus said. “This is all funded through SPAD, a most important voluntary contribution made through our membership.”
Speaking of the PHC, Marcus told the audience: “Our school, with its state-of-the-art training, allows us to be the frontrunners in obtaining these jobs for our membership. It also allows our membership to go as far as they want in the industry – from unlicensed to licensed officers. This is just one example of how one aspect adheres to another…. I thank all the instructors, the school’s administration and our union officials for all the progress we have made. I thank them all for a job well done.”
In closing, Marcus urged his SIU brothers and sisters to stay informed. And while he and his classmates had just completed two weeks of intense training, he said that much of the information he received is also available through other easily accessible sources. Included his list were the union’s website, the Seafarers LOG and the union’s approachable executives. “I encourage you to take advantage of all of them,” Marcus concluded. “An informed member can only result in a stronger union.”
Flauta joined the union in 1992 in Honolulu. Born in the Philippines, he currently sails out of the port of Oakland, California.
“The union has given me an opportunity to have a successful career,” he said. “It has also helped me to establish a far better life for myself and my family here in America.”
Flauta said that thanks to his jobs with the SIU, his kids are making good on all of their ever-growing educational aspirations. “My children are excelling in their education because of my work,” he said. “Because of this job, my children will be taking their first cars to the stars and back.”
Flauta said he was impressed with the entire bosun recertification curriculum, especially those portions that addressed member benefits and the contracting process. “The insights I gained on the [Seafarers Plans] and the contracting process were very valuable,” he said. “I can now provide information to my shipmates who have questions about these things.”
Regarding SPAD, Flauta urged everyone present to continue making contributions to this very worthwhile fund. “To all members and trainees, I would like to ask you to continue to donate to SPAD,” he said. “Donations keep our jobs and the industry safe.”
After advising the rank-and-file members to practice safety in every job-related task and to keep all mariner documents current, he told them to upgrade as often as possible. He closed by thanking union officials for keeping the union going strong.
Stig Sasse Jr.
Sasse is home-ported in Houston, the same location where he initially signed on with the union in 2001.
“The recertification class has given me an understanding of the history of the union, the different departments and [various programs] that affect members,” he said. “I now have the tools – including knowledge of contracts – to assist members with whatever they want to know. This has been a very informative experience for me.”
Sasse launched his seafaring career when 16 years old. “I’ve been in this industry since 1975. I sailed under the Belgian flag, then with the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Maritime Union and now with the SIU,” he said.
“I’ve been around the world several times and will probably do it several more times,” he continued. “I like different cultures and the history of languages…. I’d like to thank SIU President (Mike) Sacco and all those who were involved in making this happen.”
Addressing the apprentices, Sasse said, “You young guys, you are our future. Go out there and learn, work hard and take pride in what you do. Be considerate of your shipmates and treat the ship as you would your own home; it is your home while you are there.”
He then addressed rank-and-file members regarding the importance of political activity. “I ask you to help our officials by donating to SPAD,” he said, “so they can do their jobs to keep us strong and secure.”
Sasse surrendered the podium with a final piece of advice for his brothers and sisters: “If you think you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, you probably do,” he said. “Jack Gallagher has a good program going on at the Addictions Rehabilitation Center (ARC). Let it be your decision to get help, not the Coast Guard’s.”
Konning joined the SIU in Houston, his current home port.
“I have been a part of this union since 2002,” he told his brothers and sisters. “I have been sailing for 30 years or more starting in 1978. I have sailed around the world … to the west, east, north, South Africa, Europe, the Far East and Asia.”
Originally from Ghana, Konning said he is deeply indebted to the union because it “has helped me to become a citizen of the United States.”
He then turned his attention to the PHC staff. “My thanks go to the union instructors and staff at the school for all of their hard work,” he said. “They did a great job during my recertification training and I learned a lot about leadership, union education, recruiting, manpower, U.S. Coast Guard regulations, claims, social responsibilities, drug and alcohol awareness, vacation records and SIU contracts.
“The entire experience made me a better mariner by providing me a greater understanding of what I am doing,” he continued. “I can now explain things to my crew and answer any questions they put before me.”
Turning to the apprentices, Konning advised them to study hard and learn from their instructors. “And when you get out to sea, work hard, carry your load and never be afraid to ask questions.”
Before departing the podium, he encouraged all rank-and file members to upgrade their skills often and do their part to help protect union jobs by donating to SPAD.
Vazquez joined the SIU in 2001 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, his home port. He has upgraded his skills on four previous occasions at the PHC.
“Being at the school (for bosun recertification training) has been an eye-opening experience for me,” Vazquez said. “I learned a great deal about medical plans, pensions and the money purchase plan. These new insights will enable me to help keep my shipmates informed.”
He then thanked “President Sacco, other union officials, staff members and everyone else involved in this great organization for making this day possible. I also want to thank (Port Agent) Amancio Crespo for his trust in me when I first shipped as a bosun a few years back,” he continued. “For that trust, I will always be grateful.”
In similar fashion, he acknowledged union officials from the port of Houston for an extremely memorable role they played in his career. “They really came to my rescue a few years ago when shipping was really slow in Puerto Rico,” he said. “I flew to Houston to get work and those guys really treated me like I was family. I will never forget that.”
Vazquez then expressed his gratitude for the union’s new hall in Puerto Rico. “I again thank the leadership as well as others who were involved in the acquisition of our new union hall in Puerto Rico” he said. “It really does mean a lot to all of us. There are still a few details to finalize but soon the new hall will be up and running.”
Directing his attention to the apprentices, he said: “To all the young guys, let me tell you to work hard, always give 100 percent and don’t allow anyone to turn you around. There are no limits on how far you can go aside from those limits that you place on yourself.”
In closing, Vazquez stated, “Life for me as a mariner once was like a roller coaster: up and down. But thanks to the SIU, that has all changed. Everything now is moving forward. Once again, thanks to the SIU. You guys have made me more than just a sailor; you made me a professional.”
Mohamed signed on with the union in 1999 in Honolulu. He currently sails out of Wilmington, Calif.
“I found the bosun recertification course interesting and enjoyable,” he said. “The knowledge I gained will enable me to teach younger members how the union works.”
Focusing on the positive impact that being a Seafarer has had on him, Mohamed said, “The SIU has afforded me the opportunity to have a good life for myself and my family. I have now been sailing for 17 years. I would also like to say thank you to our union leadership for all the hard work they do in keeping and protecting our jobs and this industry.”
To the trainees, Mohammed offered: “My advice to you guys is to keep working hard, be responsible, keep a good attitude and upgrade your skills often.”
In closing, he told the rank-and-file membership to keep their dues current and donate to SPAD as often as possible.
Tanoa was the final recertified bosun to speak. He started his career with the union in 1991 in Honolulu. He upgraded his skills in 1993 and 1998 at the PHC and in 2001 in Barbers Point, Hawaii.
After extending his gratitude to the union’s executives and Seafarers Appeals Board for accepting his application to be a member of the recertification class, he sent a shout-out to PHC officials. “I want to compliment the vice president, staff members and the Piney Point port agent for the awesome job they have done keeping our school top notch – the best in this country as well as overseas,” he said.
“I made a promise and a commitment to my family and friends – past and present – who are now retired members of the deck, engine and steward departments aboard SIU-contacted vessels,” Tanoa continued. That promise, he added was that someday, he’d become an SIU recertified bosun.
“Here I am today,” he said, “a member of the PHC recertified bosun class of 2017.” He then pointed out that he believes he is the first Samoan-born mariner from the Pacific Islands to earn bosun recertification status in the union’s history.
As a result of being a member the union and achieving bosun recertification status, Tanoa said, “I have secured the American dream and a good future for my kids and family. And that’s why I want to thank SIU President Sacco and past presidents for the fair shake in life that I have had with the SIU during the past 26 years.”
Turning to the trainees, he said, “My advice to our apprentice class is to take advantage of this opportunity to build a solid foundation and a better future for you and your family. Take advantage of the academic programs that we offer here and keep upgrading to better your skills for the challenges that lie ahead.
“Our SIU motto is Strength in Unity,” he continued. “We are members of every race and religion. We speak every language; we’re every gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. And we were all born right here in the SIU, and we are one. Our diversity is our strength.”
Addressing his fellow recertified bosuns, Tanoa suggested that each of them now knows the way forward and their collective responsibilities. “Our duty is to continue to be the eyes and ears for our union aboard ships,” he said. “We must advocate and protect the new and young union members and defend our collective bargaining rights.”
In closing, he told all present that the devil never sleeps. “We have opponents out there who are bold, well-funded and willing to fight,” he said. “I say bring it on. Brothers and sisters, we have the best executive board in SIU history to fight this battle all the time and we all must support them.
“Remember, Strength in Unity and Unity is Our Strength.”
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