REMARKS AS PREPARED
MARK H. BUZBY
“NORTH AMERICAN MARITIME MINISTRIES ASSN.” ANNUAL CONFERENCE
692 MARITIME BLVD.
AUG. 15, 2018
10:45 – 12:15
Thank you Jason. It’s great to be here with you today, and joining with Captain Manning and Lyn to discuss seaman’s welfare.
First let me just say thank you all for the outstanding work you do on behalf of the maritime industry and seafarers around the world. As a seafarer myself, we owe you all a great debt.
I am very honored to be here, because your mission is near and dear to my heart: you take care of mariners!
In that respect we have a very common focus. The command philosophy that I have lived by since commanding my first ship over 20 years ago has three simple tenants, and the first one of those is: “Take care of your people first.”
So I think we see eye to eye there.
And in case you are wondering, the other two tenants of my command philosophy are: “Be a professional” and “Be a good shipmate.” That’s what I believe, and that is how I’ve run every organization that I have been entrusted to lead – and that includes the Maritime Administration, my ships in the ready reserve force and my midshipmen at Kings Point.
I myself was born a block from the Atlantic Ocean on the Jersey Shore, and the sea has influenced me literally from my first breath.
Growing up, I was fortunate to be surrounded by a strong cadre of male family members and close friends – the kind of people you call “uncle” – who had all served in World War II or Korea.
The majority of them served in the sea services – Navy and marine corps.
They were all god-fearing men and church attendance was what we all did every Sunday morning – St. Andrew’s Lutheran, on the corner of Michigan and Pacific avenues by the sea in Atlantic City, NJ.
Right across the street from the hospital where I was born and right next door to the Dennis Hotel where my family lived.
As a child fishing and boating on the local waters, learning to command ` my first vessel, I couldn’t wait to grow up and pursue my true destiny. I knew it would involve ships, sailors, and the sea.
What followed was a truly wonderful career that began at Admiral Farragut Academy, progressed to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, and then off on a 34-year adventure in the Navy, working my way up the chain of command to eventually command some incredible ships and some of the finest shipmates from all walks of life.
And from my earliest days as a midshipman at Kings Point– through my Navy time – and then especially during my last four years at military sealift command, I was in frequent contact with the port chaplains and facilities that are a part of NAMMA. So I know you!
I know that it is well appreciated by this audience that life afloat these days has changed a lot since I started out, back in the 70s.
I think it’s true for both the Navy and especially so for the Merchant Marine side and particularly on internationally trading ships.
There are plenty of reasons for this: smaller crew sizes, longer ship assignment contracts, less in-port time, more personal electronics driving people into their cabins, and in many cases a more culturally or ethnically diverse crew. I’m sure that you can add some additional factors in there.
The net result is – in my view – going to sea has grown more stressful and lonely than it used to be. I’m sure that drives a lot of people out of the maritime industry – if they even can leave the industry. For some, that’s just not an option – they’ve ‘gotta’ gut it out. That impacts quality of life in a whole lot of negative ways.
I know that for years, surveys of sailors in the Navy routinely showed that the greatest “dissatisfier” was separation from family and friends.
All this concerns me a lot for a couple of reasons. I don’t like seeing an industry that I grew up in and have strong ties with become a place to be avoided. We are a maritime nation – seafaring is part of our nation’s history. Attracting and retaining new mariners is becoming increasing challenging.
The other issue is that I am already in a pretty significant personnel shortage situation.
To execute one of my statutory missions of providing emergency surge sealift for our nation’s armed forces, I operate 46 ships in the Ready Reserve Force, maintained in 5-day readiness status in ports around the country – four right here in Baltimore. They have 9-person caretaker crews. We depend on these ships to move our armed forces where they are needed.
Earlier this year, I testified before Congress that we are about 1800 deep-sea unlimited tonnage mariners short of the number needed to meet our nation’s sealift requirements. That’s a national security impact right now. I can just barely fully man those 46 ships – but sustaining it is a problem.
So I care a lot about the health and well-being of our mariner workforce – and I know you do too – in an even more hands on kind of way. Because that’s what NAMMA and its members are all about.
I also know that not only do you care about U.S. mariners, but just as importantly for foreign mariners arriving in the U.S.as well. Given the port security restrictions we operate under in this post-911 world, it can be very difficult if not impossible for some crews to leave the ship.
We know for certain that “NAMMA” serves as a virtual U.S. ambassadorship to the foreign sailors that come into U.S. ports.
Using your “Wi-Fi” or email and phone to call home and talk to a husband, wife, loved one, friend or family member, can make a huge difference to a seafarer’s mental state.
And as we have seen in the not so recent past, it is not uncommon these days for unscrupulous owners to abandon ships and crews leaving them without pay, or subsistence, or even a means to go home. The role you play in helping those poor souls work through their situations is unparalleled.
It still amazes me that in 2018, ship abandonments still occur – it’s incredible.
I can tell you that we at MARAD are grateful for the selfless service you provide to seafarers of all nationalities.
We encourage and support programs of “NAMMA” members that work to help our mariner’s physical, mental, spiritual well-being. You are our partner in that very important endeavor, and I’m here to tell you that we are yours as well.
Your chaplains, your programs, your centers, have made an enormous difference in the lives of countless thousands of homesick seafarers that many of you here today – along with your dedicated fellow caregivers — have helped and comforted through the years.
Thank you for everything you do – both for those things we can see and those we cannot, in the hearts and minds of our seafarers. I salute you. Stay the course and keep up the good work.
God bless you all.