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U.S. Celebrates National Maritime Day

Arc ro/ro
The U.S.-flagged ro/ro Honor offloads military cargo at Jaxport in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve (ARC Ro/Ro)

Published May 22, 2022 9:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Sunday, the United States celebrates National Maritime Day, a moment to remember the contributions of American merchant mariners and the U.S. maritime industry. The U.S. celebrates its mariners, shipping companies, shipbuilders and ports every May 22 - the date of the first transatlantic steamship voyage, which was completed by the SS Savannah in 1819.

"On National Maritime Day and every day, we honor the Merchant Marines for their service and sacrifice and acknowledge their crucial role in protecting our nation’s security and commerce," said President Joe Biden in a proclamation. "Mariners provide a smooth passage for America’s critical domestic goods and serve as stewards of our Nation’s trading gateways with the rest of the world. My administration continues its unwavering support of the United States Merchant Marine, as well as the Jones Act, which protects the integrity of our domestic maritime industry, supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, and contributes over $150 billion in economic benefits."

Biden pointed to the role that American mariners play today in delivering essential supplies for the defense of Ukraine. In addition to the "air bridge" to Poland maintained by the U.S. Air Force and commercial air freight carriers, U.S. shipping - particularly ro/ro shipping - has been ferrying much-needed equipment across the Atlantic. This includes armor and vehicles used by the thousands of American servicemembers who are deployed for partnership, training and deterrence missions in Europe. 

"Merchant mariners’ legacy of perseverance and dedication is carried on by today’s civilian mariners.  As tyranny and violence again cause the tragic loss of innocent lives and senseless destruction in Europe, our merchant mariners have answered the call of duty by crewing vessels of our United States Ready Reserve, moving vital military cargo to help the Ukrainian people in their defense of freedom," said Biden. 

This year's National Maritime Day also marks a landmark step towards gender equality on the regulatory side of the sector. Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointments of the first female administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration and the first female commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Maritime Administrator Rear Adm. Ann Phillips (USN, Ret.) was confirmed by the Senate on May 10, and Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan was confirmed on May 11. 

“Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan and MARAD Administrator Rear Admiral Ann Phillips have broken many barriers throughout their careers to rise to the highest ranks in their respective careers, and we look forward to working closely with them to continue to strengthen the American maritime sector and grow our domestic fleet,” said Matthew Paxton, President of the Shipbuilders Council of America.

This month also saw the long-overdue award of the Congressional Gold Medal to all the U.S. Merchant Mariners of WWII, who braved Nazi U-boat attacks to deliver arms and supplies for the fight for freedom. The medal is the highest honor Congress can bestow, and the recognition ceremony was delayed by nearly two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 10 veterans of the WWII merchant marine were finally presented with ceremonial gold medals in a ceremony on May 18. 

This year, MARAD is celebrating National Maritime Day with a series of virtual panels instead of a formal ceremony on the statutory day of remembrance. The first panel was held on April 26, and it focused on fostering shipboard culture that promotes fair and dignified treatment for all. It focused on the recent pause of USMMA's Sea Year program; additional safety measures on board vessels; and legal and policy practices that may be used to combat "negative cultures onboard vessels at sea." The second and third panels will be held on Monday, May 23rd, and will focus on maritime decarbonization and on initiatives to support the mariner workforce.