Mariners and ships in Hurricane Katrina

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Our thoughts and prayers have been for those in the area affected by Hurricane Katrina, especially those retired merchant mariners. If we can be of any assistance either through the facility in North Carolina or the outreach program please do not hesitate to contact me.

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The Maritime Administration has wrapped up its involvement in Hurricane relief efforts after the training ship EMPIRE STATE sailed from New Orleans last week. MarAd vessels, many crewed with MEBA officers, played a key role in relief efforts during MarAd’s six-month mission on behalf of the Transportation Department.

Ten of the agency’s ships were activated to aid in recovery and relief efforts in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This marked the first time MarAd’s Ready Reserve Force vessels were activated to deal with a domestic emergency at the request of the Secretary of Transportation. This was also the first time training ships provided by MarAd to State maritime academies were pressed into service to provide food and shelter. The vessels brought urgently needed supplies, including water, provided assistance for oil spill cleanup, generated electricity, and provided 269,000 meals and 83,165 berth nights for recovery workers and evacuees.

Acting Maritime Administrator John Jamian noted, “The men and women who crewed and operated these ships provided relief and care to the Gulf Coast at a critical time, and they have brought great honor and distinction to the U.S. Merchant Marine. They moved quickly into the stricken area and provided food and shelter, plus improvising communication strategies, first aid -- anything that was needed. They demonstrated the extraordinary ingenuity of merchant mariners, and the capability of the maritime industry to respond to a crisis.”


Louisiana State University
officials have received word that the MEBA-crewed USNS Comfort, one of two Military Sealift Command hospital ships, has been commissioned to New Orleans to serve as the city's Level One trauma center. The city's Charity Hospital is unsalvageable and must be replaced by a new, state-of-the-art structure.

The Comfort will help return needed trauma care to New Orleans in the interim. The ship will be under the control of emergency officials during its duration in the Big Easy. The vessel, which is already receiving patients, is docked at the Poland Street Warf, adjacent to New Orleans' Ninth Ward, the area hardest hit by flooding from Hurricane Katrina. Ramps have been constructed that allow emergency vehicles to pull up next to the ship to off load patients.

Don Smithburg, CEO of Louisiana State University Health Care Services Division, said, "The arrival of the Comfort allows us to continue our high level of emergency care, while we rebuild our facilities. The citizens of New Orleans should be assured that we didn't leave them during the storm and we are not leaving them now."

The Comfort has all of the features of a trauma one facility including 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, 1,000 available beds, radiological services, a medical laboratory, and a pharmacy. It also has the ability to facilitate helicopter landings.


MEBA TELEX TIMES Sept. 30, 2005

MEBA members aboard the Patriot-operated Cape Florida in Orange, TX rode out the storm and were valiant in their successful efforts to keep the ship from the wrath of Rita. Three tugs helped keep the vessel close to the dock as the destructive weather provided some tense moments. The Patriot-managed vessels Cape Farewell in Beaumont and Cape Flattery in Orange, TX also experienced some harrowing moments but survived the storm.

The Waterman LASH ship Atlantic Forest withstood the worst of the weather from the port in Lake Charles, LA. The ship's crew worked tirelessly to protect their vessel and keep her steady at the dock and succeeded brilliantly.

The Cape Victory and Cape Vincent, the two Keystone managed RRF vessels based in Beaumont, TX were put to good use as Rita began blowing into town last week and officials feared the worst. Two days before Rita made landfall, the ships were loaded up with over 200 emergency vehicles as well as police dogs to keep them safe until the storm passed. The MEBA-crewed vessels served their purpose well and, soon enough, firetrucks, ambulances and bulldozers were offloaded and immediately put to use.

The Cape Vincent was later activated and departed for New Orleans to support relief efforts in that area. The Cape Victory remains in Beaumont and is serving as a headquarters for relief operations for 90 area officials and emergency workers.

The MEBA-crewed USNS Patuxent was part of a Naval force that was positioned before Rita struck to immediately sail to the impacted region and assist in relief operations. The oiler Patuxent is one of the vessels in the Military Sealift Command's Auxiliary fleet that support Navy vessels.

The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort, crewed with MEBA officers, arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services and Louisiana government state officials. The ship, one of the largest trauma facilities in the nation, is preparing to act as an emergency trauma center for New Orleans as its citizens begin to repopulate the Crescent City. During this mission, Comfort will be under the operational control of Joint Task Force Rita.

"We are looking forward to helping the city of New Orleans get back on its feet and are ready to assist the people in any way we can," said Capt. Thomas Allingham, commanding officer of the ship's Medical Treatment Facility. Comfort has been operating in the Gulf Coast region for nearly three weeks. The ship was activated in support of FEMA's Hurricane Katrina relief efforts Aug. 31 and sailed from its Baltimore home port Sept. 2.

After stopping in Mayport, Fla., to load additional supplies and personnel, Comfort and its crew of more than 600 Sailors, civil service mariners and Project HOPE volunteers, arrived in Pascagoula, Miss., Sept. 9. During ten days in Pascagoula, Comfort's medical staff treated 1,452 patients aboard the ship and 376 patients ashore at the Comfort Clinic, a temporary medical facility set up at the city's Singing River Mall. The ship left Pascagoula Sept. 20 in order to evade Hurricane Rita.

Ready Reserve and Training Ships Providing Hurricane Relief

U.S. Transportation Command News Service -- Sept. 23, 2005

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (USTCNS) --- A Ready Reserve Force ship activated by US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) September 20, 2005 has so far not been able to leave its home port of Beaumont, TX but that doesn't mean it isn't working.

The MV Cape Vincent was not able to depart Beaumont on time because some of the crew members couldn't get to the ship in the traffic jams preceding landfall of Hurricane Rita. So the Vincent and its sister ship, the MV Cape Victory, have stayed in port and become a temporary shelter for the emergency vehicles belonging to the Port of Beaumont, the City of Beaumont, and Jefferson County, as well as for a number of police dogs who also need a place to stay.

Both ships have been activated by Military Sealift Command for USTRANSCOM to support operations in the Middle East in the past two years, with each of them being activated three times between January 2003 and September 2005. The Cape Vincent has served a total of 345 days and the Cape Victory has served for 349 days.

The Ready Reserve Force (RRF) is a fleet of militarily useful ships, usually used to support the U.S. Armed Forces in time of war or national emergency. RRF ships have frequently been activated to help in recovery efforts from disasters overseas, but this is the first time they have been activated to assist in recovery from a domestic disaster.

Five other RRF ships have been activated to help in hurricane recovery, as follows:

Maritime Administration (MARAD) also owns training ships for all six state maritime academies, and three of those have been activated to support hurricane recovery efforts:

"The Maritime Administration is working day and night to get these vessels successfully deployed," said Acting Maritime Administrator John Jamian. "What we, and the men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine, do best is support this nation in time of peace and war."

All RRF ships are crewed by U.S. civilian merchant mariners. MARAD also provides training ships for all six state maritime academies. The RRF ships and training ships are all part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet, administered by MARAD.

MEBA Telex Times, September 16, 2005

NOAA Continues Clearing Katrina-Ravaged Waterways
Weeks after Katrina made landfall, ports along the Gulf coast and channels on the Mississippi River are once again navigable and safe for ship traffic.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has played a key role in a major interagency effort to ensure that navigational areas affected by Hurricane Katrina are clear of obstructions and debris. NOAA led the surveying effort to open the region's ports and shipping channels as soon as possible, and anticipates all needed surveys will be completed by Saturday. MEBA crews the NOAA vessels, some of which have been sent to the hurricane areas as part of Navigation Response Teams. Such MEBA crewed ships have already made a difference: Last Saturday, the Thomas Jefferson completed repairs to the Pascagoula tide gauge and is conducting side scan survey work in the approaches to the Pascagoula ship channel. The Nancy Foster is underway on a cruise to sample water, sediments, and fish/shrimp for evidence of toxic contamination and pathogens in the offshore waters affected by Katrina. Over the weekend, the ship departed Pascagoula for Gulfport, MS. to assess the tide gauges locations. Gordon Gunter continues to provide food and shelter for crew and displaced NOAA employees, and is assisting with cleanup and relief operations. The ship is also providing communications support to the Navy and Coast Guard. The Oregon II is providing berthing and relief for crew/family members and NOAA personnel, and is assisting with cleanup and relief operations.

Comfort Begins Katrina Relief in Pascagoula

The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) arrived at Pier Gulf's Bayou Casotte Terminal in Pascagoula last week to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) effort to provide medical support and humanitarian aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Comfort brings with it unique capabilities for humanitarian relief missions, including helicopter lift capability, advanced medical equipment, a wide range of medical capabilities, berthing and personnel support, and logistical supply assets to support medical operations ashore.

Comfort and its more-than-500-person crew are initially slated to function at a 250-bed capacity for patient care. Should there exist a need to support a respite care role for relief workers, the ship's capabilities can be stretched to accommodate more than 700 beds.

In preparation for the mission, Comfort loaded more than 245,000 pounds of supplies, including more than 48,000 bottles of water prior to departure from Baltimore, Md., Sept. 2. The 894-foot ship then stopped in Mayport, Fla. en route to the Gulf Coast to receive more than 300 medical and support personnel, to load an additional $800,000 of medical supplies including pharmaceuticals, intravenous fluids and vaccines, and took on $3 million in donated medical supplies.

In coordination with FEMA and other agencies, Navy and Marine Corps assets are continuing to provide assistance to displaced persons, medical aid for affected people, mobility and logistics support, as well as assistance in restoring other critical infrastructure and civil services.

Additionally, in light of communications difficulties created by Hurricane Katrina, the Navy has established a 24-hour help line for Sailors, CivMars and their families to call information. The phone number is (877) 414-5358. The line is staffed by volunteers with connectivity to FEMA and other government agencies.

Coast Guard Assisting Katrina-Affected Merchant Mariners

The Coast Guard is moving quickly to restore vital services to merchant mariners in the New Orleans area.

Hurricane Katrina caused the Coast Guard’s REC in New Orleans to close its doors as employees evacuated from the city. This REC is the largest in the country and regularly issues 20 percent of all mariners’ credentials nationwide. Many mariners in the hurricane devastated area lost their credentials in the subsequent flooding. These mariners, as well as those seeking routine renewal of expiring credentials, need Coast Guard services before they can return to shipboard employment.

Short-term plans include the augmentation of REC staffs surrounding REC New Orleans’ area, including Houston, Memphis, Charleston, and Miami, with personnel who formerly staffed the REC in New Orleans. In addition, the Coast Guard will establish REC representatives at the Marine Safety Office, Morgan City, Louisiana, to provide limited services to mariners including fingerprinting and identification. The Coast Guard is also looking to establish similar services in a Gulf Coast location to the east of New Orleans.

Many mariners have already contacted an REC to inquire about the status of their records or transactions that were in process in New Orleans at the time of the evacuation. The remaining RECs have already received information about processing these applicants. In many cases, records that existed in REC New Orleans may be recovered through copies, identified through letters sent to applicants, or verified from information in centralized mariners’ records.

Mariners who had an application pending in New Orleans should contact another REC and provide that REC with copies of the documents submitted to the New Orleans REC along with any correspondence received in response to the application. More can be found on the web at

MEBA Telex Times, September 9, 2005

More Meba Ships Called For Katrina Aid
The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived in the Gulf yesterday with roughly 270 crew members, 58 sailors and 63 civil service mariners including MEBA members. After initial reports that the Comfort’s sister ship, the USNS Mercy, was destined for the Gulf to help alleviate the suffering, it appears that the ship will stay put on the West Coast. “
After a careful assessment of needs, the USNS Mercy will not be deployed and is not on standby at this time," Trish Larson, a spokesperson for the Military Sealift Command announced. It had originally been reported that the ship would sail on September 7th. The MEBA-crewed vessel recently returned stateside after an extended period of time aiding victims of the Tsunami in South Asia.
The MEBA-crewed supply ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8) is currently on hand in the Gulf with her Navy group transporting disaster-relief teams and specialist equipment. Reports say that the USNS Supply, another MEBA crewed Fast Combat Support ship has also been tapped for relief operations.
MEBA members took over the Ready Reserve Force vessel Cape Flattery this week from another labor union. The vessel, which is operating under MEBA company Patriot Contract Services, will remain in Full Operating Status and is awaiting further orders. It is possible that it will join the relief effort in New Orleans.
More News On The Knox And The Kennedy
The Houston hall rounded up four night engineers, two third mates and a 3rd A/E for the Ready Reserve Force fleet vessels Cape Knox and Cape Kennedy berthed in New Orleans. A van replete with armed guards escorted the mariners to the ships. Both vessels are managed by Keystone Shipping.
The ships were slammed by the heavy winds and waves brought by Hurricane Katrina but through the perseverance of her crew, survived intact. Those crews clarified that they actually endured almost five hours on deck while the storm raged to ensure the safety of the vessels. Initial reports repeated in last week’s Telex gave credit for only one hour in rough weather.
The Cape Knox has since been shifted into Full Operating Status and is awaiting further orders. The Kennedy may also go into FOS as well.
Keystone Texas Hangs On
The MEBA-crewed Keystone Texas, operated by Keystone Shipping, endured Hurricane Katrina in Norco LA. Loaded with gasoline bound for Tampa, ship Captain Hodgdon singled out Chief Engineer William Schriever, 1st A/E Richard Hobson, 2nd A/E Charles Norval, 3rd A/E W. Ebanks and T. Molnar with exceptional work in helping the ship resist the storm. The Master reported winds up to 110 mph and acknowledged his excellent crew for their extreme competence in a trying time.
Dot Orders Up More Ships
Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta announced that new ships will soon join the planes, trains, buses and trucks involved in the massive operation to bring supplies into areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. MEBA President Ron Davis has been working in tandem with DOT, MarAd and related agency officials to help coordinate maritime’s response to stem the tide of suffering.
The Cape Kennedy and Cape Knox, already in New Orleans, have the capacity to move hundreds of personnel and thousands of tons of supplies into the region. The Maritime Administration pointed out that the Cape Kennedy (and the Knox) have provided an emergency headquarters for the staff of the Port of New Orleans, and said that “port operations are being directed from there.”
"We need to act now to mobilize resources like these ships that can support what is going to be a long term commitment to rebuilding the region," said Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta.
In addition, State Academy training ships Empire State, Sirius and State Of Maine have joined the fray.
NOAA Ships Survive Storm; Port Office Does Not
The MEBA-crewed NOAA ships Gordon Gunter and Oregon II weathered Hurricane Katrina, but not without damage to Oregon’s hull. There is a foot-long gash in the hull above the waterline and some scarring on the hull from banging against the pier. The ship has some systems operating on generators and a few people still on board, but the ship will need repairs before it can become operational. Finding a nearby shipyard that is up and running may be problematic. The extent of damage and estimated time for repairs is unknown at this time. Gordon Gunter was unscathed, and its systems are running.
The Gunter is providing shelter and meals for its crew as well as crew from Oregon II, some displaced NOAA personnel and their families who have lost their homes, a U.S. Coast Guard seaman, and members of NOAA's Navigational Response Team who are surveying the area. Mattresses were taken from Oregon II to accommodate as many people as possible.
Personnel from the Pascagoula Naval Station and U.S. Coast Guard Mobile Sector have been using Gunter's communications capabilities, including Inmarsat and Iridium phones and email. The ship's engineers and electronics technician have been working around the clock to keep the ship systems and communications operating. Gunter also has been providing hot meals to NOAA personnel working around the NOAA Fisheries Lab and to visiting Navy and USCG staff. Fisheries scientists have pitched in with the cooking. Family members have been helping out with cleanup operations on the ship and in the dock area.
The Pascagoula Port Office, which is part of the Pascagoula Fisheries Lab building, has significant damage; NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations (NMAO) will work with the NOAA Facilities Office and NOAA Fisheries as the facilities are repaired or rebuilt. The pier suffered structural damage, but the ships are still able to berth there.
Henry B. Bigelow, which has not yet been delivered to NOAA, has no apparent damage, but the VT Halter Marine, Inc., shipyard has suffered extensive damage and will probably not be up and running for at least another month. In fact, Bigelow generators were offered for use to help provide power to the shipyard. The NOAA offices on site were destroyed, and all paper records were lost.
NOAA Ships Dispatched To Survey Ports
The MEBA-crewed NOAA vessels Nancy Foster and Thomas Jefferson were released from their scheduled sea days by the Office of Coast Survey and have been diverted to help survey port areas in Mobile, AL, and Pascagoula, MS, respectively. Nancy Foster, a coastal oceanography vessel, was outfitted with multibeam and side scan sonar and is now on site, carrying an ad hoc Navigation Response Team from the Office of Coast Survey to conduct the surveys. Thomas Jefferson, a hydrographic survey vessel, departed from Norfolk, VA.
Army Corps Vessel Giving Aid In Gulf
The largest seagoing hopper dredge in the United States is serving as a workhorse in the Gulf following the Katrina disaster. The Wheeler reportedly is in emergency mode acting as a communication station, feeding and berthing station for emergency personnel and is conducting fuel transfers to emergency vehicles when necessary. Based in the Gulf, the MEBA-crewed vessel is part of a fleet of dredges that are freeing up waterways and providing help whenever necessary.

MEBA Telex Times. September 2, 2005

Ready Reserve Cape Knox & Cape Kennedy Weathered The Storm
The Keystone-managed Ready Reserve Force vessels Cape Knox and Cape Kennedy weathered the storm from their berths at the Poland Street Wharf in New Orleans, but not without a heroic tale to tell.

Three tugs helped the vessels secure themselves at the pier and stayed on scene as the hurricane approached and conditions steadily worsened. In the early morning hours, the Chios Beauty, a bulker tied up nearby, broke her moorings and was blown across the river before running aground. As the 145 mile per hour winds began to snap the mooring lines on the Knox and Kennedy and the ships began sliding down the pier, it appeared that the RRF vessels might be doomed to the same fate. One of the bollards the Knox had tied up to was actually torn out of the dock by the raging weather.

A small force of officers deployed on deck in driving rain and hurricane force winds to prevent the ship from breaking loose. They labored for almost an hour through intolerable conditions but managed to refasten the lines and stop the vessels from hurtling off toward their demise. Hours later, when the winds began to slacken off, they re-secured the ships for the night.

The next day they were able to return to their original positions. Since then, the ships have begun to run low on food and supplies as well as water. They continue to make do with great ingenuity not uncommon to MEBA engineers and deck officers. MEBA commends the incredible bravery and cool under fire exhibited by our members aboard these vessels. They include:

Aboard the Cape Knox:
Captain Don Gavin, Chief Engineer Jack Cole, 1st Engineer Tom Gabriel, 2nd Engineer George Robinson, 3rd Engineer Cyril "Stosh" Bassich, and volunteer mates John Verrilli and Frano Delonga.

Aboard the Cape Kennedy:
Captain John McNeilly, Chief Engineer Jim Palmer, 1st Engineer Mark DeGruy, 2nd Engineer Jim Burke, and 3rd Engineer Dan Webster.

The vessels have been turned into shelters for Coast Guard personnel and emergency workers who are continuing relief operations in the area.

Meanwhile, Keystone is on the lookout for night engineers to help service the vessels. However, logistical difficulties because of the rampant devastation are proving to be an impediment.

MEBA Ships Sail Onto The Scene

In addition to a handful of Navy ships being sent onto the scene for support, we have received word that the MEBA-crewed Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort has been ordered to the Gulf Coast to assist. The ship is scheduled to leave her Baltimore berth on Friday and is due to arrive in the region on Thursday. Current Atlantic Port Chief Engineer Joe Muchulsky was pulled off his "desk job" and has been assigned to the Comfort.

In addition, the USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8) which is based at Naval Station Earle, N.J., arrived in the Gulf Coast operating area on August 31st. The MSC Fast Combat Support ship, complete with MEBA officers in the engine room, is providing underway replenishment to the USS Bataan Navy ship group
sent into the region. Chief Engineer Sammy Battles is assigned to the Arctic.

Other MEBA-crewed ships are expected to be called upon including many of the Army Corps of Engineers vessels.

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