Secretary Chao Meets with SIU and Ship Operators on Hurricane Relief
The Secretary was the keynote speaker celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Seafarers International Union’s Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education at Piney Point, MD, which provides entry level and advanced training for seafarers. She also delivered remarks at the Annual Convention of the Seafarers International Union of North America.
Secretary Chao noted the contributions of Seafarers to the rescue and recovery efforts in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. The Department’s Maritime Administration sent the S.S. Wright to St. Thomas where it is presently offloading relief supplies and radar equipment for the airport. She also reported that the Maritime Administration’s Training Ship TS Kennedy (from Massachusetts) and the TS Empire State (from New York) are in route to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The ships that MARAD has dispatched will provide power, food, clean water and berthing to federal responders. Secretary Chao thanked the Seafarers for their assistance and noted that 29 Seafarers and four members of the AMO augmented the crew of the TS Empire State and 14 Seafarers augmented the crew of the TS Kennedy.
Afterwards, President Sacco had gathered a group of over 30 chief executives of U.S-Flag shipping companies, representing every aspect of the U. S. merchant marine fleet, who reported to the Secretary on the current situation in Puerto Rico. These companies have ships on site, unloading cargoes to help the residents of Puerto Rico.
As bad as the hurricane damage was to the port of San Juan, they reported that the hurricanes hit the more remote areas of the island with greater ferocity and there is likely much more damage in the interior of the island. Among the concerns of attendees at the meeting was the subject of Jones Act waivers for ships delivering certain products to Texas and Florida. They reported that there are sufficient U.S.-flagged ships to handle the relief efforts in Puerto Rico. The rate of unloading cargo has been slower than normal due to the damages sustained at the major port, San Juan. After unloading their cargoes, there is no distribution of the products inland due to damages to the infrastructure by the hurricanes. Many of the receivers’ terminals and warehouses have been destroyed so there is no way for receivers to receive the cargoes. Roads and bridges have been destroyed or are impassable due to damage or debris. There are few vehicle movements. The Jones Act is not the problem, they said. Damage to Puerto Rico’s infrastructure --roads, bridges and power grid -- are even bigger problems in getting relief supplies to residents.
Secretary Chao expressed her appreciation for their insights into the still unfolding situation in Puerto Rico and for their contributions to the relief efforts.