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Starting a yearlong commemoration that will culminate on the 100-year anniversary since the Jones Act was implemented, the American Maritime Partnership (AMP) recognized U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and the merchant mariners of World War II with its first American Maritime Heroes awards.

“Secretary Chao has been a dedicated and longtime friend of the U.S.-flag maritime industry,” stated MTD President Michael Sacco. “She is highly deserving of this recognition.

“In addition, no one can say enough about the valor, fortitude and determination of those mariners who risked their lives daily from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific to make sure America and the Allies were victorious during World War II,” Sacco added. “I can think of no better way to start this year of saluting the Jones Act than by recognizing our friend, Secretary Chao, and our heroes, the World War II merchant mariners.”

AMP is a coalition of maritime unions (including MTD affiliates), shipowners, domestic shipbuilders and other allied organizations to support and promote U.S.-flag shipping.

Prior to being named Transportation Secretary, Chao served as the U.S. Labor Secretary from 2001 to 2009. She delivered the keynote remarks in 2003 when former MTD President Paul Hall was inducted in the Department of Labor Hall of Fame. During the 1980s, she was the Deputy Maritime Administrator, Chair of the Federal Maritime Commission and Deputy Transportation Secretary.

Even before the United States formally entered World War II in December 1941, American merchant mariners had suffered losses transporting goods on the high seas. The official tally of mariners who lost their lives during the war is more than 8,200 with others captured and becoming prisoners of war. All told, one out of every 26 mariners died during World War II.

Today, only about 2,000 of the nearly 250,000 who served are still alive. The MTD continues to support efforts in Washington to honor all of these mariners with the Congressional Gold Medal.

The Jones Act is the nation’s freight cabotage law. It is part of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 and named for U.S. Senator Wesley Jones (R-WA). The law states any goods transported from one domestic port to another domestic port must be carried aboard U.S.-flag, U.S.-built and U.S.-owned vessels crewed by American mariners.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers study for the Transportation Institute released in January showed the nation’s maritime industry employs nearly 650,000 Americans, contributing $154 billion to the economy.

AMP plans to announce other American Maritime Heroes awards through June 2020.