On a morning set aside to welcome new tonnage into the American-flag fleet, U.S. Merchant Mariners also got plenty of recognition.
The accolades were delivered Sept. 20 in Baltimore, during a pier-side ceremony hosted by Seafarers-contracted American Roll-on Roll-off Carrier (ARC). The company is adding three vessels to its fleet: the ARC Integrity, ARC Independence and ARC Resolve, the latter of which was docked near the celebration. All three will enroll in the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP).
SIU President Michael Sacco was a featured speaker, and the union turned out in force. Also representing the SIU at the gathering were Executive Vice President Augie Tellez, Secretary-Treasurer David Heindel, Vice President Atlantic Coast Joseph Soresi and Port Agents John Hoskins and Victor Nunez. Apprentices from the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education also were on hand, while SIU crew members aboard the ARC Resolve welcomed guests for pre-ceremony tours.
Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby delivered keynote remarks. Also formally addressing the crowd of 200 or so were ARC President and CEO Eric Ebeling; Major Gen. Michael Wehr of the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM); and Jim White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration. Capt. Mike Murphy of the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers capped the festivities with a toast to the vessels and crews.
Sacco explained the importance of not just the MSP but the entire U.S. Merchant Marine in relation to U.S. national, economic and homeland security. He commended ARC, TRANSCOM and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) for their respective commitments to the industry, and then gave a passionate description of the men and women who comprise the U.S. Merchant Marine.
“They are patriots,” Sacco stated. “They are damn proud to be America’s fourth arm of defense. They are part of a legacy that has supported our troops – not for years, but for centuries. And you’d better believe they are ready right now, today, to answer the call and support our troops if the balloon goes up.
“Those are the men and women who’ll sail aboard the ARC Integrity, the ARC Resolve and the ARC Independence,” he continued. “And because of their unions and the fact they’re employed by a good, fair company like ARC and the vessel operator, TOTE, they’re able to support their families. That’s the American dream, and it’s symbolized here today.”
Buzby, who formerly served as commanding officer of the U.S. Military Sealift Command, said his current agency is working hard to spread the word about maritime.
“Too few of our own countrymen understand the vital importance of maritime issues and the significance of every single ship sailing under the Stars and Stripes,” he stated. “The industry is all about economic security; it’s about national security; it’s about trade; and it’s about jobs.”
He explained that the nation’s military strength “is inextricably tied to the maritime industry. That’s because American commercial vessels – like the three ARC vessels we’re going to be naming here today – are essential elements of military sealift. Virtually everything that the military requires in a deployment moves by ships…. We need a strong, properly sized U.S.-flag fleet, including U.S.-flag merchant ships in regular international trade like these three ships.” Buzby then recalled a recent visit with young military personnel who didn’t realize that volunteer, civilian mariners deliver the vast majority of U.S. materiel in times of conflict.
With Ready Reserve Force (RRF) ships docked elsewhere in the port, Buzby also pointed out that the mariners reporting there and elsewhere during a massive activation were all “on leave or training just a few hours ago. Now, they have been called, and they have answered. Someone said they’re patriots? You’re damn right they’re patriots. They answered the call and they are there today on those ships, ready to take them to sea.”
A longtime maritime stalwart, Buzby then described the importance of laws and programs backing the industry.
“Programs like the MSP are designed to ensure that we maintain (at least) an absolute bare minimum of commercial sealift capability to serve our nation’s needs in times of emergency…. We’ve got to level that playing field for our ships,” he stated.
Cargo preference statutes “are key elements in the U.S.- flag equation, too,” he added.
Moreover, Buzby continued, “I can’t stand here this morning without mentioning the Jones Act and its vital importance to the health of the maritime industry and our national security. There have been many op-eds written lately – much of them slanted and based on long ago-debunked falsehoods. Let me be very clear: The Jones Act is the fundamental cornerstone of our nation’s maritime policy. It has been for the past 99 years. Without it, our domestic maritime industry – afloat and ashore – would fold. You need only ask folks in Australia how things are going there after they repealed their version of the Jones Act. I, for one, do not want to see our national internal maritime logistics chain and the jobs that go with it, (given) to a foreign power. Not on my watch.”
Wehr, director of Strategic Plans, Policy and Logistics and TRANSCOM, declared, “Many of the people and organizations who have made this possible today are true patriots.”
He also backed the MSP when he stated, “There is no doubt the most cost-effective way to do business is the MSP. It’s effective, it’s efficient, and it’s a true testimony of our nation’s economic strength…. At TRANSCOM, we depend on this partnership with commercial industry. You’re all part of this nation’s ability to fight and win wars.”
He further explained, “The ability to support our nation’s security at wartime is unmatched by any other country. These ships really do represent sealift that gives the United States the ability to project military power anywhere in the world…. No other nation matches this.
“What makes us a superpower is the people that man these ships, that make them work and bring it together,” he concluded. “Everyone here today is part of this sacred trust we have.”
White described how Baltimore is the nation’s top port for RO/RO shipments. He noted that the cargo means significant economic benefit for the state, both in terms of jobs and income.
Ebeling reiterated his company’s commitment to U.S.-flag shipping and military support. He also thanked the “steadfast friends and strategic partners from organized labor. The industry-labor partnership is an amazing success.”
Ebeling described Sacco as a “visionary leader” whose work is “essential.”
Vessel sponsors were Georgina Fitzgerald for the ARC Resolve (wife of ARC Group Chairman Raymond Fitzgerald); Carol Henry for the ARC Integrity (wife of Transportation Institute President James Henry); and Pat Ridlon for the ARC Independence (wife of AIS Executive Vice President and General Counsel John Ridlon).
For photos from the event, visit the SIU Facebook page here.