SIU President Michael Sacco discusses the importance of National Maritime Day
Quick, how many of you had ever heard of National Maritime Day before you started working in the industry?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Just like the U.S. Merchant Marine is often an unintentionally well-kept secret other than in port towns and in maritime families, National Maritime Day doesn’t exactly pop out from the average calendar.
Congress designated May 22 of each year as National Maritime Day in 1933. The original intent was to commemorate the first transoceanic voyage by a steamship, in 1819 by the SS Savannah. Through the decades, though, the day’s focus has understandably shifted. Given the U.S. Merchant Marine’s vital contributions in every conflict of the last and present centuries, it’s fitting that Maritime Day ceremonies often highlight those efforts. In particular, the commemorations in the nation’s capital and in other cities across the country duly credit the absolutely indispensable, heroic sealift mission carried out by our World War II mariners. (For those who are unaware, more than 1,200 SIU members lost their lives during the war.)
But Maritime Day isn’t just a history lesson or a memorial service. Prominent speakers from the military, government and industry usually also explain why America still needs a strong U.S.-flag industry with American crews. The White House annually issues a proclamation that also blends a tip of the cap to past service with an informal summary of why our country simply cannot afford to lose our fleet or our mariners.
In fact, here’s a brief excerpt from last year’s statement by President Trump: “Today, the men and women who crew ships remain essential to our Nation’s prosperity and security. Those in the maritime industry, including merchant mariners, promote our economic growth, facilitating the export of more than $475 billion in goods just last year and sustaining our critical defense industrial base. Merchant mariners also actively protect our homeland, serving as our eyes and ears on the seas. They serve with distinction and courage, heading into war zones, and too often sacrificing their own lives for our protection.”
Brothers and sisters, that’s anything but token acknowledgement, and it shows that despite the previously mentioned challenge of educating the public about the U.S. Merchant Marine, we don’t always lack for recognition.
All in all, National Maritime Day is a very important occasion for the SIU and for our industry, even if you can’t find a greeting card for it. This year’s ceremony in D.C. was scheduled to happen right after the LOG’s deadline, so we’ll have full coverage next month. In the meantime, please check out our National Maritime Day posts on the SIU website and on our Facebook page. We usually have that coverage available the same day of the gathering.
Meanwhile, I would be remiss in not briefly stating the case for why we need a strong U.S. Merchant Marine moving forward. Our domestic maritime industry alone supports nearly 500,000 American jobs and pumps billions of dollars into the economy every year. Our internationally trading deep-sea ships help ensure that we won’t be held as economic hostages by other nations, and our civilian-crewed military support ships guarantee that our brave men and women in uniform won’t have to cross their fingers and hope that foreign crews on foreign-flag ships decide to deliver the vital materiel they need in times of conflict.
We can honor the past by working hard to ensure the ongoing vibrancy of this vital industry.
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