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National Maritime Day Ceremony

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Draft remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine l. Chao
National Maritime Day Ceremony
USDOT 1200 New Jersey Ave., SE
Washington, D.C.
May 22, 2017

Thank you so much, President Sacco, for that warm introduction, and for your strong and steady leadership—as well as your friendship-- over the years.

I am so pleased to welcome everyone to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s celebration of National Maritime day.  There are so many maritime leaders-- and friends of the maritime industry—here today, including:

  • General Darren McDew, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command,
  • Vice Admiral Charles Ray, Deputy Commandant for Operations of the U.S. Coast Guard,
  • Rear Admiral Jim Helis, Superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy,
  • Lisa Wieland, Port Director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, and
  • Joel Szabat, Executive Director of the Maritime Administration.

And a special thanks to the Armed Forces color guard, and to His Excellency, the Most Reverend Mario Dorsonville-Rodriguez, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, who is delivering the invocation and the benediction today. 

As many of you know, I began my executive career in government as deputy administrator of the Federal Maritime Administration, and then as chair of the Federal Maritime Commission.

So it is always a pleasure to come back to my roots in transportation, and highlight the contributions of the U.S. Merchant Marine and all mariners.  

This ceremony recognizes the dedicated seafaring men and women of the U.S. merchant marine, who have served our nation since its founding. This includes the tens of thousands of U.S. citizen-mariners currently employed in oceangoing, inland river, Great Lakes and marine-related shore jobs.

Throughout our history the American Merchant Marine has contributed significantly to our country’s economic strength and national security.

Merchant mariners have played a vital role in commerce by ensuring the safe and efficient waterborne delivery of commercial cargoes here at home, and across the globe.  And they are a key factor in our country’s military readiness. They transport supplies and equipment during times of conflict to our military forces abroad. The maritime industry has been a steady and important influence nation for more than 240 years.

As a young nation, our country was a bold, seagoing enterprise that helped to transform an unexplored continent into the leading economic giant it is today.  America’s enormous waterborne resources – three ocean coastlines, the world’s largest freshwater lakes, and over 12,000 miles of inland rivers and waterways – were and are essential to our destiny as a nation.

And we shall never forget that America’s merchant mariners are always among the first to be called to action to help those in need, both at home and abroad.  Whether it’s rushing aid to hurricane victims on the gulf or east coasts of the U.S…or shipping food, water, and medicine to victims of the earthquake in Haiti… U.S.-flag vessels bring hope and critical supplies to the victims of natural disasters.

And in wartime, the U.S. Merchant Marine has served heroically: from the Revolutionary War, to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and every conflict in between. Never has this been more evident – and costly -- than during the Second World War.  A total of 5,638 merchant seamen and officers were lost at sea, and 581 were made prisoners of war.  In fact, through the first part of 1943 casualties among the seagoing force were greater proportionately than in all the armed services combined.

So in celebrating National Maritime Day, we pay homage to this proud legacy of service and sacrifice.  It is a history of heroism that continues today, as many new challenges confront our country.  The Department of Defense still relies on U.S.-flag ships crewed by American civilian mariners to move our warfighters, equipment and supplies whenever and wherever they need to go.

The Maritime Administration is dedicated to promoting the U.S. flag fleet, educating future generations of merchant mariners, continuing to modernize our ports, and creating opportunities to make better commercial use of our waterways. MARAD and the Department will work closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, and other partners with a stake in our maritime future to achieve these goals.

This National Maritime Day observance is a fitting and well-deserved tribute to the men and women who have served our nation honorably as merchant mariners for more than 240 years. By answering the call in peace time and at war… by providing humanitarian assistance around the globe…. and by safeguarding our economic and national security, the U.S. Merchant marine plays a key role in defending our country and making the world a better place.   

So thank you again for being here today.  And thank you for everything you are doing to keep our country strong and free.