The SIU is teaming up with national and local labor organizations, Seafarers-contracted vessel operators and other supporters to collect and deliver storm-relief supplies following Hurricanes Fiona and Ian – primarily to Puerto Rico and Florida, but also to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Alaska.
Collection points include the hiring halls in Houston; Philadelphia; Jacksonville, Florida; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Tacoma, Washington; and San Juan, Puerto Rico. While donations are welcome at those locations, Seafarers are encouraged to check with their local halls and also keep an eye on the SIU website for related updates.
Fiona, at one point a Category 4 storm, hit southwestern Puerto Rico with 85 mph winds on Sept. 18. Parts of the island were flooded, and all of Puerto Rico’s estimated 1.47 million power customers initially were left without electricity. Perhaps of greater immediate concern, around a quarter-million water customers initially had no service.
By early October, power and water services had been restored to the vast majority of residents. Ten days after Fiona struck Puerto Rico, Ian devasted Florida on Sept. 28 and then made landfall again two days later in South Carolina. Official estimates are ongoing, but at press time in mid-October, Ian reportedly had caused more than 130 deaths in Florida along with billions of dollars in damages.
The labor movement stepped up in support within hours of Fiona striking Puerto Rico and again after Ian. Among the organizations pitching in are the SIU, Maritime Trades Department (MTD), IBEW, AMO, MEBA, MM&P, Longshoremen, Teachers, Machinists, AFGE, AFSCME, Carpenters, AFL-CIO and others.
According to the American Maritime Partnership in a Sept. 23 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, 2,000 containers were positioned in the port of San Juan prior to the storm to provide supplies. When all the island’s ports reopened following the hurricane, U.S.-flag vessels resumed operations on their dedicated U.S.-Puerto Rico terminals, with six Jones Act ships either already offloaded or preparing to dock by the end of that day.
Meanwhile, a large-scale relief effort led by the SIU took place Oct. 8 in Puerto Rico. Seafarers and others from the labor movement had prepared supplies for a few days earlier. They then delivered more than 1,000 individual grocery bags, bottled water and other supplies to residents in Hormigueros and Penuelas.
During preparations at the hiring hall on Oct. 6, Chief Steward Ingrid Ortiz noted, “We’re going to the south of the island, where everybody was very affected by the hurricane, and we’re planning to help with food and anything else they might need.”
Recertified Steward Bam Bam Aguilera added, “We’re working to help everybody who needs it.”
“We’re putting everything together for our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico,” said Michael Jacob, who sails in the steward department.
SIU Assistant Vice President Amancio Crespo, based in San Juan, stated, “While it’s nothing new for SIU members to step up and help their fellow citizens, I’m grateful for their generous response to Hurricane Fiona. They’ve put in a lot of work and have always done so with a great attitude and a can-do spirit. It’s what the SIU is all about.”
President Biden visited Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 3. He touched on the financial support the federal government is providing to residents, and saluted them for their “resilience and determination. Quite frankly, it’s pretty extraordinary, when you look at it from afar. And you deserve every bit of help your country can give you. That’s what I’m determined to do, and that’s what I promise you…. We’re going to make sure you get every single dollar promised. And I’m determined to help Puerto Rico build faster than in the past and stronger and (be) better prepared for the future.”
Two days later, the president spoke in Fort Myers, Florida. He said, “I’ve instructed my administration to bring every element of the federal government together to help with the immediate needs and long-term rebuilding. You have my commitment and America’s commitment that we’re not going to leave. We’re going to see you through this entire process.”