Beginning in late July, SIU mariners once again answered the nation’s call by crewing up a large number of Ready Reserve Force (RRF) and surge sealift vessels on very short notice.
As explained by SIU Vice President of Contracts and Contract Enforcement George Tricker, “As directed by agreement with the United States Transportation Command, MARAD (the U.S. Maritime Administration) conducted the Command Post Exercise Breakout 2020 to test that ship managers, operating companies, and maritime labor unions have the ability to initially crew the entire Ready Reserve Force and Military Sealift Command’s surge sealift vessels simultaneously.”
Altogether, SIU members helped crew up 19 ships during the activations.
In the first period, the following vessels were activated: USNS Cape Race (operated by Keystone), USNS Denebola (TOTE), USNS Cape Knox (Keystone), USNS Gordon (Ocean Shipholdings) and USNS Fisher (U.S. Marine Management). This totaled 59 SIU jobs.
During the second period, which began in late August, the following vessels were activated: Cape Ray (Keystone), Gopher State (Pacific-Gulf Marine), Adm. William Callaghan (Patriot), Cape Henry (Matson), Cape Horn (Matson), Cape Wrath (Crowley), Cornhusker State (Pacific-Gulf Marine), Cape Domingo (Keystone), Cape Decision (Keystone), USNS Shughart (Ocean Shipholdings), Cape Inscription (Ocean Shipholdings), SS Algol (Ocean Shipholdings), USNS Gilliland (Ocean Shipholdings) and USNS Red Cloud (Patriot). Those 14 ships meant 146 jobs filled.
The focus of the exercise remains the initial crewing actions to surge vessels for sealift purposes, and does not consider sustainment requirements or the ability to replace mariners because of vessel losses.
“It went very well,” said Seafarers Manpower Director Mark von Siegel. “With the five ships in July, the ports did a great job in getting those filled quickly, but they actually did a quicker job with the 14-vessel activation. We had all of those jobs filled within 24 hours. They did a fantastic job. The members really stepped up to the plate when the balloon went up, as they say, and took those jobs on short notice. Abiding by all the rules and regulations due to the quarantine was a challenge, but we got the job done.”
Known as the fourth arm of defense, the U.S. Merchant Marine has been a vital part of national security since the country’s founding. As recently noted by the coalition USA Maritime, “The U.S.-flag Merchant Marine ensures that the United States will have the sealift it needs to carry out its military, humanitarian, and commercial objectives overseas, and ensures the availability of U.S.-controlled, U.S.-crewed maritime assets to keep commerce flowing in times of war and national emergencies.”
Earlier this year, U.S. Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby noted, “The merchant marine has always been there, and has never faltered.”
During remarks commemorating this year’s National Maritime Day, U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) Commanding Officer Gen. Stephen R. Lyons said, “We count on a strong U.S.-flag maritime industry – a maritime industry that has a long history of enabling military victory. Today, just as in World War II, the United States-flag merchant ships, the mariners who crew them, and our commercial sealift industry continue to play a critical role in our nation’s defense by providing sealift ships, mariners, and access to global seaport networks.” He continued, “As a result, the United States’ ability to project and sustain military power across transoceanic distances remains a strategic competitive advantage, and is admired by friends and adversaries. TRANSCOM, working with MARAD and key industry partners, provides an essential element of deterrence and, if necessary, the unquestionable ability to respond with overwhelming, decisive force, most of which will be moved by sealift. The resulting combined effort is a world order that encourages peace, and opportunities for freedom, while deterring a great power war for over 75 years and counting.
“The United States is today, and always will be, a maritime nation,” Lyons concluded. “The most important resource of a maritime nation is people: professional men and women of high technical proficiency, who sail with high technical competency, hard work and innovation. That is why, at the end of the day, it is a U.S. flag on a ship, with U.S. crews at the helm, that remain essential to our national defense.”