The United Seamen’s Service (USS) 51st annual Admiral of the Ocean Sea (AOTOS) Award was presented virtually for the first time, in a Dec. 9 ceremony that highlighted the work of the entire American maritime community.
The traditional silver statuette of Christopher Columbus – the first Admiral of the Ocean Sea – was accepted by The Honorable Elaine L. Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, on behalf of the honorees, and the award will have a permanent home displayed at U.S. Maritime Administration headquarters in Washington, D.C.
In accepting the award, Chao specifically praised SIU President Michael Sacco, who delivered the keynote address. “He is always championing the issues and concerns of his rank-and-file members,” she told the virtually assembled crowd, adding that she learned a lot about leadership from observing him. She went on to highlight the work done by the SIU to safely reopen the Seafarers-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education.
She referred to the U.S.-flag industry as a “partnership” who “work together and so well,” before saluting the industry for stepping up and delivering throughout the crisis.
LTG Kenneth R. Wykle, USA, (Ret.), Chairman, USS AOTOS Committee, served as the moderator of the program. The event also featured Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby; General Stephen R. Lyons, USA, commander, United States Transportation Command; RAdm. Michael A. Wettlaufer, USN, commander, Military Sealift Command; William Adams, president of the International Longshore and Warehouseman’s Union; Thomas B. Crowley Jr., chairman and CEO of Seafarers-contracted Crowley Maritime Corp; and William Woodhour, president of SIU-contracted Maersk Line, Limited.
Wykle said in his opening remarks, “About 13 months ago, we gathered in New York City for the annual AOTOS dinner…. Unfortunately, the world changed early this year.” He then spoke about the unique nature of this year’s event, as well as the challenges that have faced the maritime industry in 2020.
Sacco said, “I have the honor of discussing one of the few bright spots of 2020, and that is the outstanding performance of the U.S. Merchant Marine during this global pandemic. Actually, I salute the world’s entire seafarers population for the outstanding job and sacrifices they have made to keep the supply chain mov- Towards Union Crews ing.”
Later in his speech, he said, “My role today is to salute our mariners, but I also want to say a brief word of thanks to our ship operators, our U.S. Longshoremen and our partners at the Maritime Administration, TRANSCOM, the Coast Guard and DOT. Your leadership and your cooperation made it possible for us all to continue getting the job done – safely and on time. Because of your work, readiness has been maintained.”
He concluded, “Last but not least, I have a request for every seafarer, no matter where you sail. Please, please continue to take this pandemic seriously, just like you’ve done all along. We can see the lighthouse ahead of the safe harbor, but this isn’t the time to drop our guard. You really are essential workers, and your country depends on you. More importantly, I know that you are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, spouses and close friends. You have every reason to remain vigilant and do everything possible to stay safe.”
“Our union brothers and sisters have always answered the call, as they did in 2020,” said Crowley, representing Jones Act carriers. “Our nation’s mariners play a vital role for the economy and national defense.”
Speaking for the U.S.-flag international fleet, Woodhour described how the company worked with its contracted unions to move crew members safely around the world. “Mariners know it is more than a job, delivering vital supplies,” Woodhour pointed out.
Adams represented the nation’s dockworkers, and spoke about their importance during this crisis: “Our members are essential workers,” he declared. “We are heroes without capes. Dock workers kept the supply chain moving.”
Buzby jokingly stated “not many jobs in this industry can be done remotely.” Then he saluted mariners and the industry saying, “We needed everyone to get the job done and they got it done!”
Lyons thanked mariners and the industry for making sure “the mission never fails. Together, we will deliver.”
Wettlaufer applauded mariners for overcoming the challenges before them during the epidemic.