View our Facebook album from the event HERE
The SIU made a typically strong showing for this year’s National Maritime Day observance in the nation’s capital. Union officials and an enthusiastic group of apprentices from the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education – two of whom played key roles in the ceremony – were on hand at Department of Transportation (DOT) headquarters for the annual gathering May 22.
The SIU contingent included President Michael Sacco, Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, Secretary- Treasurer David Heindel, Vice President Contracts George Tricker, Vice President Great Lakes Tom Orzechowski and Port Agent Victor Nunez. Paul Hall Center Apprentice Shannon Gail Peterson served as the official wreath-tender while fellow Apprentice Charles Patchin sounded eight bells, consistent with tradition.
Hosted by the DOT’s Maritime Administration, the ceremony drew hundreds of people from all segments of the industry. This year’s theme was “Empowering Women in the Maritime Community.” Speakers were (in order) Deputy Maritime Administrator Richard Balzano (master of ceremonies); Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben, USN (Ret), who also gave the invocation; Maritime Administrator Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, USN (Ret); Gen. Stephen Lyons, USA, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command; Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, Ph.D., USN (Ret), assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator; Jennifer Boykin (keynote), president, Newport News Shipbuilding; and The Hon. Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon, commissioner, Puerto Rico.
Awards were presented to: Capt. Arthur R. Murray Jr. for his service as a merchant mariner during World War II; Andrew Bouchot of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, who saved the life of a stowaway while training at sea; and Catherine Morrison, a real-life “Rosie the Riveter” who worked as a welder during World War II. The administration also showed a video highlighting the historic role women have played in various components of the American maritime industry.
The speakers covered an array of maritime topics. In addition to remarks consistent with this year’s theme, many also reinforced the ongoing, indispensable role of the U.S. Merchant Marine as America’s fourth arm of defense. Several recognized the Paul Hall Center apprentices and thanked them for attending.
Buzby during his remarks relayed greetings from Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, a maritime stalwart who was in Germany that day.
He continued, “As we celebrate our industry today, I salute all the women from the maritime industry, afloat and ashore, who continue to make a difference…. Maritime Day celebrates our indispensable industry and commemorates a historic yet largely forgotten technological achievement: the first trans-Atlantic crossing of a ship under steam power, the SS Savannah. Its voyage from Savannah, Georgia, to Liverpool, England, that took place began on May 22, 1819, and marked the passing of the era of sail power and the coming of the first industrial age, which would transform the speed of commerce and the entire nature of naval warfare. That’s part of why Maritime Day is so important. It’s a time to honor those who served, too many of whom gave their lives as patriotic merchant mariners.”
He said the day offers a chance “to pause to remind ourselves of just how critical maritime issues are to the security and prosperity of this island nation of ours – something that’s generally out of the public’s focus. It’s also up to us to ensure that there is always a new generation of American mariners prepared to relieve the watch.
“Two centuries on from the historic cruise of the Savannah, America’s strength still rises and falls with the health of the maritime community,” Buzby concluded. “We will need it to meet the challenges ahead, and I have great confidence in the future because of the people here today.”
Lyons opened his speech by “recognizing the hard-working men and women of the United States Merchant Marine and the maritime industry that have made and continue to make significant economic and national security contributions to the United States of America in peace time and war.”
He recalled the crucial service of World War II mariners specifically and the U.S. Merchant Marine in general through the centuries, which he said “has made significant contributions to our nation’s survival.”
Lyons noted that upwards of 9,000 civilian U.S. seamen died in World War II (including more than 1,200 SIU members), either during the formal hostilities or afterward as a result of injuries sustained.
“Fast forward to today,” he stated. “The DOD and TRANSCOM continue to depend on U.S.-flag merchant ships, their incredible trade networks, and our incredible mariners – exceptional mariners who sail. These ships that carry important exports in peace time rapidly transition to a Navy auxiliary in war time, delivering the vast majority of supplies and equipment to protect and sustain our military forces globally.”
He described the merchant marine as “an essential part of our DOD war plan. This is why I remain a strong advocate of Administrator Buzby and MARAD’s selfless work to preserve emergency preparedness programs like VISA, and incentive programs like the Maritime Security Program. It’s vitally important to the United States of America to retain the viability of a fleet of ships that sail underneath the U.S. flag. This fleet provides assured access to the United States Transportation Command and the Department of Defense, and these programs and the work that MARAD does are critical to our national security.”
He concluded, “To all the merchant mariners around the globe, thank you for your patriotism, for your support, and your unwavering commitment to defend our great nation. Together, we deliver.”
Boykin, who oversees a union shipyard with 24,000 employees, discussed changing times in the maritime industry and how she recognizes the significance of having become the first woman president of Newport News Shipbuilding.
“There’s never been a more exciting time to be a shipbuilder,” she said. “For the first time in over a decade, all of our available drydocks are full…. We have more work under contract than we’ve had in two decades.” (For example, the yard recently signed a contract to build two aircraft carriers. That means 14 years’ worth of work, she explained.)
Gonzalez-Colon saluted America’s rich maritime history and emphasized the reliable service provided by Jones Act ships to Puerto Rico. She recalled Hurricane Maria and credited the domestic maritime industry for timely delivery of all the supplies needed to survive and rebuild. She said it was a “lifeline” and that the “American shipping industry” made recovery possible.
Domestic maritime is “a loyal, dependable partner” with the territory, she stated.
Gallaudet, a Navy veteran, recalled serving on an aircraft carrier during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. “We could have done none of that without the sealift and supplies from our merchant marine,” he said.