By PETER ATKINSON, Deputy Editor
Pacific Central, Calif., Region Navy Leaguers
have begun a concerted effort to marshal support for an often-overlooked
maritime service under the organization’s umbrella: the
U.S.-flag Merchant Marine.
Over the summer, Region President Jeanne Sharkey
formed a Region Merchant Marine Committee to explore opportunities
for assisting Merchant Marine assets and programs in the area,
which encompasses northern and central California and northwest
Nevada. And since the spring, councils and individuals from the
region have been reaching out to the local maritime industry
and, by extension, the Department of Transportation’s Maritime
Administration (MARAD) and the Pentagon’s Military Sealift
Last March, various council members welcomed
the MSC roll-on/roll-off ship MV Cape Orlando back to San Francisco
from its deployment overseas. In April, the Pacific Division
of the Stockton, Calif., Council adopted the training ship Golden
Bear, which is stationed at California Maritime Academy. And
in August, the Alameda, Calif., Council adopted MARAD and the
Ready Reserve Force.
“What we want to do is bring broad focus
to the whole industry,” said San Francisco Bay Area President
Michele Lockwood, a member of the Navy League’s national
Merchant Marine/Maritime Industry Committee. “Its health
and viability are crucial to our country’s economy and
our national security.”
The U.S.-flag Merchant Marine comprises the
tankers, cargo carriers, container ships and other vessels that
make up the American commercial maritime transportation system.
They are owned by U.S. companies, and registered and operated
under the American flag.
In time of war or national emergency, the Merchant
Marine becomes a vital “fourth arm of defense,” according
to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, bearing the brunt of delivering
military supplies overseas to U.S. forces and allies. It also
can be called upon to provide disaster relief services, as it
was along the Gulf Coast recently following Hurricane Katrina.
Base closures throughout the 1990s shut down
nearly all of the military installations in and around the San
Francisco Bay area, leaving the Coast Guard as the primary service
asset there. Pacific Central Region Navy Leaguers had been focusing
much of their support efforts on the Coast Guard during the last
several years, Lockwood said.
But given the Merchant Marine’s continued,
and significant, presence in the region, that focus is shifting.
The Port of Oakland is the fourth largest container port in the
United States, and the sprawling San Francisco/San Pablo Bay
region boasts a thriving maritime industry — from cargo
and cruise shipping to drydock facilities and shipbuilding.
“We need to sell the economic importance
of the maritime industry to the American public,” said
Donald Hale, Central California Area president.
The Region Merchant Marine Committee is geared
toward providing a nucleus for regional support efforts, according
to Sharkey. National Director William Stephens is chairman of
the committee, Lockwood is vice chairman and Barbara Price, president
of the Alameda Council, is treasurer.
During the past several months, Lockwood has
been giving presentations to civic groups and Navy League councils
to stress the importance of the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine. She
met with the Pacific Coast Maritime Labor/Management Consortium
in June, and in September consortium members and others from
the maritime trades participated in a Pacific Central Regional
Meeting panel discussion about the recruiting and retention of
One goal of the Region Merchant Marine Committee
is to sign up members of the consortium, a labor/management partnership
representing five maritime unions and six maritime companies
based along the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii, as Navy League
community affiliates. The Sailors Union of the Pacific and the
Marine Engineering Beneficial Association already have become
affiliates, and the consortium has voted to become one as well.
“There is a huge pool of potential Navy
League members in the maritime industry,” said Lockwood. “Whenever
you have piers and water commerce, you have an opportunity for
support, and an opportunity to recruit new members.”
Another Merchant Marine Committee goal is to
promote participation in the maritime trades, which are struggling
with a dearth of qualified employees. The committee is lending
its support to the Sacramento Council’s sponsorship of
the Maritime Technologies Program at Grant Union High School
in North Highlands, Calif.
According to Phelps Hobart, the council’s
vice president for public affairs, the program is designed to
prepare enrollees as merchant mariners. Training is provided
in classrooms, aboard ship and in specialized facilities for
such operations as firefighting and damage control.
The Grant Union program is based on a program
begun by retired Navy Capt. Ray Addicott at Mar Vista High School
in Imperial Valley, Calif. A former commander of MSC Pacific,
Addicott’s program meets all U.S. Coast Guard requirements
so students are immediately eligible to sail when they graduate.
Customers of the program include MSC, the National Oceanographic
and Atmospheric Administration, and commercial industry.
The Sacramento Council officially signed on
as Grant Union program sponsor in September.
The Pacific Central Region also is encouraging
the formation of a Merchant Marine Congressional Caucus similar
to the Navy/Marine Corps Caucus and Coast Guard Caucus sponsored
and supported at the national Navy League level to educate Congress
on the importance of the Merchant Marine and the maritime industry
to national security.
“What the maritime industry wants is the
opportunity to sell their programs on [Capitol] Hill,” said
Hale. “A need is there that should logically be filled
by the Navy League.”
The effort is still in its initial stages. Lockwood
gave a presentation about it to the Merchant Marine/Maritime
Industry Affairs Committee during the Navy League Winter Meetings
in early November. She expects the Region Merchant Marine Committee
and other supporters will spend the coming months working to
build interest in the effort.
“We have a little ground swell of support,
now we just need to push it forward,” she said.