The year 2016 saw an abundance of new, SIU-contracted tonnage enter the American-flag fleet, signaling job security for Seafarers. Every month of 2016, at least one vessel was either christened, delivered or reflagged under the Stars and Stripes. Most of them are Jones Act ships.
Additionally, 2016 served as a solemn milestone, as the one-year anniversary of the loss of the El Faro was memorialized at sea and ashore, including during dedications at the Jacksonville, Florida, union hall and at the Paul Hall Center in Piney Point, Maryland.
The following is a look back many of the most significant stories of 2016.
It was a banner year for new tonnage, particularly when it came to ships entering the Jones Act fleet. A total of 18 different vessels either were newly crewed by SIU mariners or reached construction milestones. They included commercial ships and government-operated military support vessels.
Crowley introduced the Texas, Louisiana, and West Virginia, a line of tanker ships that can be converted for propulsion by liquefied natural gas (LNG). The first vessel in the line, the Ohio, was christened in 2015. Additionally, Crowley subsidiary Intrepid Personnel and Provisioning entered the tanker Bay State into service.
TOTE took delivery of the LNG-powered containership Perla Del Caribe, as well as the reflagged car carrier Patriot. Seabulk Tankers introduced the ECO tankers Independence and Constitution, while Kirby and NY Waterway both christened new boats. American Petroleum Tankers also added the LNG-ready tankers Garden State, Magnolia State and American Endurance.
In addition, Chesapeake Crewing LLC became the new operator of two reflagged vessels, the heavy lift ship M/V Corsica and the Military Sealift Command-chartered tanker SLNC Goodwill, while Intermarine launched the reflagged heavy lift ship Ocean Glory. SIU Government Services crews also began serving aboard new vessels in 2016, as the expeditionary fast transport vessels (EPF) USNS Carson City and USNS Yuma were delivered.
El Faro Remembered, NTSB Investigates
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) located the El Faro’s voyage data recorder (VDR) on April 26, after which it was retrieved and analyzed by the NTSB’s investigators. Throughout the year, the NTSB held hearings in Jacksonville, during which maritime experts were questioned on various factors that could have contributed to the loss of the vessel. A third and final hearing will be conducted once the contents of the recorder have been thoroughly analyzed.
On the anniversary of the sinking, many ceremonies were held to memorialize those lives lost. At the Jacksonville hall, family members, union officials and union brothers and sisters gathered for the dedication of a lighthouse, adorned with 33 stars and shining its light towards the final resting place of the crew near the Bahamas. In Piney Point, members, officials and Paul Hall Center students gathered for a formal remembrance. (Another El Faro dedication had taken place at the school in June.) In many SIU halls, as well as on board several vessels, mariners held moments of silence for their departed brothers and sisters of the sea.
Rescues, New Training Vessel and More
SIU members were involved in their fair share of rescues at sea. In May, the Maersk Kentucky helped rescue 11 individuals while en route to Singapore, pulling the men from a sinking fishing boat and transporting them safely to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Three months later, the Ocean Glory rescued a lone fisherman from his wrecked vessel in the Bali Strait on their way to Banyuwangi, Indonesia. Finally, the CS Dependable rescued 14 fishermen off the coast of Mumbai, India, in September, delivering them to the Indian Coast Guard before continuing to their destination.
The Paul Hall Center was a busy place in 2016, receiving a visit from then-MSC Commander Rear Adm. T.K. Shannon as well as U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland). The school also hosted several special events, including the Paul Hall Center Advisory Board meeting, the annual Seafarers Waterfront Classic fishing tournament (benefiting the Wounded Warrior Anglers as well as the school) and the triennial SEATU convention. Additionally, the school saw several major milestones, such as the first class to complete the AB to Mate program, the creation of the Engine Assessment Program, and certainly the most visible addition to the campus: the arrival of the school’s new training ship, the Freedom Star.
In response to changing STCW requirements, the school also added two new Basic Training courses, designed to help members stay compliant in the most efficient ways.
Several contracts were ratified, including at Crescent Towing, Express Marine, Petty’s Island and Port City Marine Services. In each case, the new contracts increased wages while either maintaining or increasing members’ benefits.
Some of those same union benefits also saw increases and additions in 2016. For the first time, members can choose to direct deposit their vacation checks, a frequent request from Seafarers. Additionally, the dental coverage increased substantially for mariners and their dependents, and a new smoking cessation program was launched to help members kick the habit.
The Fourth Arm of Defense
As USTRANSCOM Director, Operations and Plans Air Force Maj. General Giovanni Tuck expressed in his remarks at the Maritime Trades Department Convention in San Diego, “Our command has always and will always depend on America’s Merchant Marine.”
Numerous SIU crews participated in military support exercises including Ssang Yong, Freedom Banner, Pacific Partnership and JLOTS. Seafarers-crewed vessels taking part in those operations included the USNS Mercy and USNS Sacagawea from the Government Services Division, as well as the Crowley-operated USNS Stockham and USNS Williams, the TOTE-operated USNS Wheeler and Fast Tempo, the AMSEA-operated USNS Bob Hope and USNS Brittin, and the Ocean Shipholdings-operated USNS Montford Point.
Additionally, the USS Frank Cable (crewed by SIU Government Services Division members) was awarded the SECNAV Safety Excellence Award, given to the vessel with the best afloat safety program across the entire Navy, and the Crowley-operated USNS LCPL Roy M. Wheat carried “the largest single Army-run shipment of ammunition to Europe in more than two decades,” according to the U.S. Army.
Election Year Saw Victories for Maritime
Although the SIU-supported candidate didn’t win the presidential election, Seafarers-backed candidates in the House and Senate fared well on Nov. 8. The union supported 106 House and 17 Senate candidates (from both major political parties), and enjoyed a win rate of 90 percent in those races.
Elsewhere, the union remained active in the international arena, including through vibrant participation in the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). The union also maintained a strong presence in the AFL-CIO, where SIU President Michael Sacco is the longest-serving member of the executive council.
Crossed the Final Bar
The maritime industry lost several close friends and advocates in 2016, including Ret. General Duane Cassidy, first commanding officer of USTRANSCOM; Tony Sacco, ITF Inspector and President Sacco’s son; Bob McGlotten, labor rights defender; Tim Brown, MM&P President Emeritus; UIW National Director John Spadaro; Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley; and Congressman Steve LaTourette. Their contributions to the maritime industry will be sorely missed.
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