Although the COVID-19 pandemic precluded an in-person gathering for the May 20 National Maritime Day Observance, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and its Maritime Administration (MARAD) put together an upbeat video to mark the occasion.
Apprentices from the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education appear in the 39-minute video (they sing “Heave Ho!” near the conclusion), which is linked on the SIU website and available on MARAD’s YouTube channel. Featured speakers include DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) commanding officer Gen. Stephen Lyons, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz, Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Daniel Maffei, and Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley. Numerous maritime students also were included, as was World War II mariner Billie Pennings. Buttigieg said the pandemic’s challenges “didn’t stop our merchant mariners and (other) maritime industry workers from helping to steer the entire country through the challenging waters that we’ve been in.”
He also stated, “This administration is firmly committed to the Jones Act, which President Biden has called the cornerstone of our domestic industry.”
Lyons noted, “Programs like the Maritime Security Program, the Jones Act and the new Tanker Security Program are important to ensure access to industry capabilities for defense needs.” These strong words of support came a week after foreign-flag interests attempted to gain Jones Act waivers during the Colonial Pipeline shutdown, which affected the delivery of petroleum products across the South and Mid-Atlantic for a little longer than one week. The U.S.-flag maritime industry closely worked with the White House to make sure cargo would be delivered and the Jones Act would remain secure.
In his first Maritime Day remarks as the head of the Transportation Department, Buttigieg, a Navy veteran, acknowledged the hardship incurred by those at sea during the pandemic. He said the way to thank them is “to make sure these jobs are safe and secure. It’s why the president’s plan so strongly supports measures to make sure that the goods and materials, infrastructure investments are made in America, shipped on U.S.-flag, U.S.-crewed vessels.”
While also saluting the efforts of those who worked at sea, on the docks and elsewhere within the industry to keep the country moving during the coronavirus fight, he praised their efforts to keep the nation secure.
“As the TRANSCOM commander, I recognize the important role the U.S.-flag maritime industry plays in our nation’s defense: a Naval auxiliary in peace and in war, contributing qualified mariners, military useful vessels and access to global trade networks,” Lyons stated. “This is why TRANSCOM and [the Defense Department] remain strong advocates for a healthy U.S.-flag maritime industry.”
The Coast Guard’s Schultz pointed out that the agency recognizes “all of our credentialed U.S. merchant mariners who form the backbone of the marine transportation system. Throughout this pandemic, America’s highly professional merchant mariners kept products moving to ensure our stores were stocked with medical and critical supplies. Last year, the Coast Guard made sure these marine operators were categorized as ‘essential workers’ because annually they enable $5.4 trillion of economic activity that Americans depend on.”
Opening the ceremony was Lessley, who said the ceremony’s theme of America’s Maritime Workforce – Connecting the Nation and the World “reminds us how vital waterborne commerce remains and how essential the men and the women who daily face the challenges of this industry are to keeping our economy strong and to supporting national defense. The success of our economy is inextricably linked to the success of our maritime industry.”
Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Daniel Maffei recalled how the “people working throughout the supply chain made sure that food, medicine, personal protective equipment, ventilators and eventually vaccines got to where they needed to be.”
President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the initial National Maritime Day on May 22, 1933, to commemorate the first successful crossing of a steam-powered vessel – the U.S.-flag SS Savannah – across the Atlantic on that date in 1819.