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Maritime labor is mourning the loss of a strong advocate on Capitol Hill, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). He was 89.

As chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security, Lautenberg was on the forefront of many maritime issues, including the Jones Act, the Maritime Security Program, Coast Guard funding, cruise ship safety and port modernization.

At the time of his death, Lautenberg was the last surviving veteran of World War II still serving in the Senate. As he noted during the 2011 National Maritime Day ceremonies: “I witnessed firsthand the difference the merchant marine makes. I have tremendous respect for our country’s mariners. The work that you do is vital. You are civilians who are patriots, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without the heroic contributions of mariners. I thank each and every one of you for always answering the call of duty. I salute the courage and service of those who fought on merchant ships and who contribute so much to our security and economy.”

He used last year’s grounding of the cruise ship Costa Concordia in Italy to call hearings to draw attention to deficiencies in the international shipping industry, asking, “Are the rules being followed?”

Maritime safety and training were important issues to Lautenberg. In 2009, he introduced legislation that addressed the system of medical evaluations for U.S. mariners, backlogs in the documentation system and the role that fatigue plays in maritime casualties.

After amassing a strong career in business and raising considerable amounts of money for Democratic candidates, Lautenberg ran for Senate in 1982 and won. He retired in 2000, but immediately regretted his decision. When Robert Torricelli’s Senate seat became vacant soon thereafter, Lautenberg was the overwhelming favorite of many to replace him.

Shortly after returning to the Senate in 2003, Lautenberg began waging a high-profile fight on behalf of a port modernization plan for the Port of New York and New Jersey. His decade-long fight demonstrated his commitment to preserving the viability of America’s ports and waterways, particularly those in his home state.