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US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg saluted mariners for delivering needed goods and supplies during the pandemic.

The MTD was well represented during the annual National Maritime Day observance at the U.S. Transportation Department in Washington, DC, on May 24.

The event (which also was available as a livestream) marked the first in-person National Maritime Day ceremony in the nation’s capital since 2019.

Within the audience of more than 100 people were MTD Executive Board Members Augie Tellez of the Seafarers and Adam Vokac of MEBA. Joining them were MTD Executive Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Duncan, Administrator Mark Clements and Communications Director Mike Hickey.

New Maritime Administrator Ann Phillips acknowledged the role of merchant mariners in keeping the country safe.

The ceremony featured remarks from Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Maritime Administrator Ann Phillips [RDML, USN, (Ret.)], U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz, Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Daniel Maffei and Military Sealift Commander Rear Admiral Michael Wettlaufer. Deputy Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley served as the emcee.

“It is nice to have human voices reverberating in this atrium again,” Buttigieg began.

He stated, “We are a maritime nation. From the three ships that changed the fate of the American continent, to the naval base in Hawaii whose bombing catalyzed America’s entry into World War II, to the ships carrying most of the things we all count on every day to our nation’s ports, we have always been and will always be a nation whose destiny is connected to the sea.”

Buttigieg added, “In Peace and In War, our mariners are the reason food reaches families’ tables around the country, the reason supplies reach our service members deployed around the world…. Facing a once-in-a-century pandemic, you have adapted. You have kept sailing. You have kept America afloat.”

“It’s my distinct honor to be here as MARAD’s 20th administrator,” said Phillips, who was confirmed by the Senate less than two weeks ago. “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to serve our nation, and to work with so many stakeholders, many of whom are here in person today…. To foster, promote and develop the maritime industry to meet our nation’s current and future economic and security needs.”

She continued, “Maritime Day is our annual opportunity to celebrate and commemorate, to honor our maritime history and to make sure our fellow Americans understand how critical the maritime industry has been – and continues to be – to our nation’s success. Most importantly, today we are thankful for the women and men of the U.S. Merchant Marine, and we celebrate their essential role in safeguarding and strengthening our nation.”

Shultz stated, “From the Coast Guard perspective, the marine transportation system is critical to our nation’s economy and our national security. About 24 percent of our gross domestic product ties to that. And all of us here today, we know the importance of seaborne cargo. We know the importance of a strong U.S. Merchant Marine. But over the past few years, I think Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the ties to their day to day lives.”

He added, “In our world, it’s easy to focus on the ships, the ports and the other infrastructure that enable us to execute the mission. But you heard the secretary say it: It’s really about the mariners. It’s not the steel, it’s not the concrete. It’s the people that make this important industry the great industry it is.”

Maffei spoke on the importance of the merchant mariners of World War II, who recently received a Congressional Gold Medal for their service. He said, “Now, more than three-quarters of a century later, we remember their sacrifice and heroism, and that of all U.S. Merchant Mariners who have – right up to the present COVID crisis – put their lives and health on the line in order to ensure the success of U.S. forces and humanitarian efforts abroad. U.S.-flag ships continue to deliver important cargoes, across waterways, to all parts of our country…. On this Maritime Day, we owe them once again our heartfelt gratitude.”

Wettlaufer used his speech to look to the future, saying, “To the people in the front row here, turn around and look at the [apprentices] from the [Seafarers Union’s Paul Hall Center]. That’s the future.

“In 2022, as in 1945, American mariners remain essential to our economy and our defense,” he continued, “The close collaboration between and integration across our commercial and labor partners, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration, the shipbuilding and repair industry, certainly the Department of Defense and the merchant marine allow our nation to maintain and retain a vital strategic advantage. An advantage that allows the joint force to maneuver across the globe at the time and to the place of our choosing, in both peacetime and in conflict.”

To close out the ceremony, students from the Paul Hall Center served as wreath tenders and performed the sounding of Eight Bells, as is tradition.