Commissioner Dye’s Prepared Remarks to the Propeller Club of the United States, Port of Wilmington, NC - Federal Maritime Commission
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Commissioner Dye’s Prepared Remarks to the Propeller Club of the United States, Port of Wilmington, NC

May 27, 2015

SS Savannah

Maritime Day recognizes American Merchant Mariners who have served our nation in times of war and international conflict, and those who have perished in service to our country. It is a day to reflect and honor the rich history of the United States Merchant Marine.

By a Joint Resolution, passed on May 20, 1933, the United States Congress designated May 22nd to be known as National Maritime Day. The 1933 Resolution marked the day in 1819 that the steamship Savannah “put to sea with steam and sails” on a voyage from her home port in Savannah, Georgia, bound for Liverpool, England. She would make the first successful transoceanic voyage with steam propulsion, and according to the 1933 Resolution, “thus making a material contribution to the advancement of ocean transportation.”

I have recently read the book entitled “Steam Coffin—Captain Moses Rogers and The Steamship Savannah Break the Barrier,” by John Laurence Busch. I highly recommend it. Captain Moses Rogers was one of the first steamboat captains, operating primarily on rivers, lakes and bays. He became convinced that it was possible to construct and operate a steam ship that could cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Captain Rogers overcame technological and financial obstacles to build and cross the Atlantic in the first steamship, the SS Savannah, calling on ports first in England, then in Sweden, Russia, Norway and Denmark before returning home to America. One of the obstacles the Captain overcame was the skepticism of potential crew members, who ‘knew the ropes” of sailing ships, but originally referred to the steamship Savannah as the “Steam Coffin.” Today, we commemorate the courage of Captain Rogers and his crew and their successful experiment in sailing the seas.

World War II and Other

Since 1970, solemn ceremonies have been held by Propeller Clubs around the country on Maritime Day to honor veterans of the merchant marine and those who gave their lives in service to the United States. Merchant mariners have been critical to our national defense since the beginning of our country, but particularly so during World War II. Even before the United States officially entered the war, merchant vessels were sunk by enemy U-boats.

During World War II, more than 200,000 Americans served in the Merchant Marine, and over 6800 American seafarers lost their lives as a result of enemy actions. The U.S. Merchant Marine has been essential to the success of every U.S. military action since that time, including the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, the Persian Gulf War as well as the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Between 2002 and 2008, 118 ships were activated by the Maritime Administration in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. After the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, over 500,000 people were evacuated from lower Manhattan by water, with the assistance of the professional mariners and midshipmen from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

President Obama has proclaimed today as National Maritime Day, and I join him in honoring the ultimate sacrifice made by the thousands of American merchant mariners. The courage and personal sacrifices of the American merchant marine have contributed to a strong American national security and economic strength. Today, the flags at the entrance to the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC, hold the seals of the United States Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, the Army Air Corp and the Merchant Marine.

As a native North Carolinian, I am pleased to congratulate the Port of Wilmington on their 70th Anniversary.

Thank you very much for the invitation to be with you today.