On October 9, 2017, the following Associated Press article was published in newsprint
from LA to New York, from Miami to Seattle, and from San Juan to Pearl Harbor, to Juneau.
The American Merchant Marine Veterans organization diligently works to preserve the Jones Act and its principles of implementation. For years, the Board of Directors and the Membership have consistently passed resolutions of Jones Act support at our National Conventions.
The following article, posted by the Associated Press is a warning that there (however, well meaning) are dangerous elements in our country who work to undermine our national security. In addition, there were some political interests who aggressively and shamelessly capitalized on the Puerto Rican crisis and the desperation of the island’s leaders and residents. This seeded media coverage and political debate with a fraudulent narrative that the Jones Act was to blame for essential supplies not reaching the people who needed them most.
The Jones Act, (originally passed by Congress in 1920 and then updated in 1936) constitutes the nucleus for our international U.S. Flag fleet. (For those who would like to read the full 1936 — Merchant Marine Act, 1936, CLICK HERE) These vessels are U.S.-built, -owned and –crewed (volunteer-integrated-civilian). The Jones Act ensures that our country has U.S. merchant mariners available to man U.S. military support vessels. Many of the intercoastal trade ships can be diverted to international use. These ships would deliver materials to our allies and U.S. troops when our National interests are threatened. This fleet of ships also serves as a nucleus for maintaining a base force of trained crew members that can be used to support less trained and less experienced seaman – when necessary to expand the size of our U.S. Flag fleet of ships.
The Associated Press Article is also an attack on our basic American patriotic enthusiasm – The AMMV opposes foreign flag ships cruising our inland waters and rivers in Puerto Rico and across our United States.
By MATTHEW DALY, ASSOCIATED PRESS ; WASHINGTON — Oct 9, 2017, 5:48 PM ET
Republicans and Democrats in Congress are pushing to exempt Puerto Rico from a federal law that prohibits foreign-flagged ships from shuttling goods between U.S. ports. President Donald Trump temporarily waived the Jones Act last month amid criticism that the once-obscure law hindered relief efforts to in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
The 10-day waiver expired on Sunday night and was not renewed. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said an extension was not needed to support relief efforts on the island, adding that there’s “an ample supply” of U.S.-flagged vessels to ensure cargo reaches Puerto Rico.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Monday that the expiration of the Jones Act waiver added renewed urgency to his push to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from what he called an “archaic and burdensome law.”
“Until we provide Puerto Rico with long-term relief, the Jones Act will continue to hinder much-needed efforts to help the people of Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from Hurricane Maria,” he said.
Rep. Nydia Vel?zquez, D-N.Y., said the temporary waiver should be extended for at least a year while Congress debates a permanent exemption for Puerto Rico.
“Significant numbers of Puerto Ricans remain displaced and still lack food, drinking water and electricity,” she wrote in a letter to Trump. “If the Jones Act is reinstated, building supplies will cost significantly more in Puerto Rico, compared to costs on the mainland. This will serve only to slow Puerto Rico’s long-term recovery.”
The Trump administration initially said a waiver was not needed because there were enough U.S.-flagged ships available to ferry goods to Puerto Rico. Delays in getting relief supplies to Puerto Rico occurred because of bottlenecks that resulted from the island’s damaged ports and blocked roads, not a lack of ships, officials said.
Even so, Trump waived Jones Act restrictions on Sept. 28, just as he had done to help ease fuel shortages in the Southeast following hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., called the Jones Act “incredibly important to our country’s economy and to the maritime industry,” which she said supports nearly 500,000 jobs and is responsible for more than $92 billion in annual gross economic output.
In Washington state, the Jones Act supports more than 16,000, mostly unionized jobs, Jayapal said. “Without these jobs, our economy would suffer tremendously,” she said.
“To be clear, everywhere in the country where we have Jones Act jobs, they are better jobs, better wages and a better future for our Americans across the country,” Jayapal said last week in a speech on the House floor.
—End of Article—
Use this link to record a position asking Congress not to repeal or revise the Jones Act.
NOTE: While on the NAVY LEAGUE site, look on the right side-bar for the heading “Support WWII Merchant Marine Veterans!” . Click on this title to send a notice to your Congressperson requesting that they Co-Sign HR-154 which recognizes our WWII Merchant Marine Veterans.
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In a hearing convened October 3 by the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation in the House of Representatives, the facts about the Jones Act and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the beneficial role the crucial American cabotage law is serving in the devastated island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria, were placed in the public record and injected into the roiling debate in Congress.
At the time of the hearing, more than 11,000 containers of crucial supplies and construction materials had been delivered to Puerto Rico by Jones Act carriers. Because roads and other elements of the island’s surface transportation infrastructure were blocked, damaged or destroyed by the hurricane, fuel could not be adequately distributed over land from terminals on the island, and trucks and drivers were in very short supply. As a result, the relief cargo that had already been delivered to Puerto Rico could not be readily distributed over land to the American citizens living there as Jones Act vessels continued to deliver more supplies to the island, filling cargo terminals to near capacity, and shipping fuel trucks directly to San Juan to help alleviate the bottleneck in moving cargo on the island.
Despite the reality on the ground, political interests aggressively and shamelessly capitalized on the crisis and the desperation of the island’s leaders and residents, seeding media coverage and political debate with a fraudulent narrative that the Jones Act was to blame for essential supplies not reaching the people who needed them most.
On September 28, the Trump Administration issued a 10-day blanket waiver of the Jones Act for Puerto Rico. In a press conference, Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert explained Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello had called him the night before and requested the waiver as a ‘just in case’ measure. Bossert said there was no real need for the waiver and no shortage of Jones Act qualified vessels. The waiver was issued only because the governor requested it to ensure all steps that could be taken had been taken to bring relief to Puerto Rico.
On October 5, David Lapan, a Homeland Security Department spokesman, said the department does not believe an extension of the 10-day waiver is needed to support relief efforts for the hurricane-ravaged island, according to a Reuters report. Lapan said the department had not received any requests from commercial interests to waive the Jones Act and the Defense Department had not requested an extension.
“There is an ample supply of Jones Act-qualified vessels to ensure that cargo is able to reach Puerto Rico,” Lapan told Reuters.
The hearing October 3, “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Coast Guard Stakeholders’ Perspectives and Jones Act Fleet Capabilities,” focused both on the budget needs of the U.S. Coast Guard for repairs, operations and facilities following three devastating hurricanes, and on the needs of the people of Puerto Rico and the service available and being provided by Jones Act carriers in dedicated trade with the U.S. territory. Witnesses at the hearing for the panel discussions were U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. William Kelly and Rear Adm. Melvin Bouboulis, Seafarers International Union Political and Legislative Director Brian Schoeneman, TOTE President and CEO Anthony Chiarello, Crowley Senior Vice President Michael Roberts, and Philly Shipyard, Inc. Government and Regulatory Advisor John Graykowski.
Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) opened the hearing. “Hurricane Maria was a category 5 hurricane when it hit the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Massive relief efforts were immediate and included over 7,000 emergency response personnel from various departments and agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the Army Corps of Engineers, among many others. Included in the response efforts were U.S.-flag vessels. There are 15 vessels that regularly supply Puerto Rico with cargo. These vessels were prepared with food and water, equipment and supplies to restore power, and emergency relief provisions for FEMA and the Red Cross.”
Rep. Hunter continued: “Critics continue to assail the U.S.-flag fleet and the Jones Act as an antiquated industry and law, unnecessary in today’s world. These critics promoted claims the law prohibited supplies from getting to Puerto Rico. However, as we know, that was false. Supplies have been getting to the island and have been backlogged at the ports, due to the devastation of logistics on the island. Foreign vessels are also bringing fuel and supplies to the island from foreign ports; the Jones Act does not prohibit that from happening.
“There are over 40,000 U.S.-flag vessels that work U.S. waterways. These vessels are U.S.-built, -owned and -crewed. These are good American jobs. This should be a positive thing, not critiqued as antiquated or expensive. The Jones Act also ensures that our country has U.S. merchant mariners available to man U.S. military support vessels. This is a point ignored by many and something that needs more attention.”
Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), ranking member on the subcommittee, also made opening remarks at the hearing. “There’s been a lot of misinformation, especially about the Jones Act, that continues to float around in the media. This hearing provides a timely and valuable opportunity to set the record straight.
“The response of the U.S. merchant marine and the fleet of U.S. Jones Act carriers has been nothing short of superb,” Rep. Garamendi said. “These domestic carriers immediately re-routed and assigned additional vessels to carry emergency supplies – food, fuel, water, medical supplies and building materials – to Puerto Rico in its time of greatest need.
“The President yielded to the political pressure and granted a 10-day waiver,” he said. “What remains clear, however, is that more vessels delivering more supplies without any improvement of the island’s surface transportation infrastructure will do little to improve the recovery effort on the island. In fact, it may create even greater congestion and confusion, which regrettably will only add to the misery of United States citizens and others on the island.”
During the hearing, several members of the subcommittee questioned the witnesses on the panels and commented directly on the Jones Act, its importance to the U.S., and on the misinformation being spread about the law and its impact.
Rep. Don Young (R-AK), whose state is also served by Jones Act vessels in non-contiguous trade with the U.S. mainland, said of the most recent attacks upon the cabotage law, and of the waiver: “As much as I like Puerto Rico, there’s been a group of people over the years trying to subvert the Jones Act. This is not new, and they saw an opportunity.
“I’m a little worried about that nose under the tent right now.”
“No one has justified it to me … we do have the ships,” Rep. Young said. “I know that they’re trying to do this to Hawaii, and trying to do it to Puerto Rico, then they go down the line. That affects a large very viable section of our domestic industry and our national defense. The Jones Act is a great deal of that.”
In an exchange with the Coast Guard officers, Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) clarified that foreign ships carrying cargo from foreign ports are in fact allowed access to Puerto Rico and are not affected by the Jones Act.
“It’s my understanding also, as of last week, there are more than 9,000 containers that were sitting at port facilities in Puerto Rico, and the challenge was not getting the containers there, the challenge was actually distributing the containers,” Rep. Graves said. “And, if I recall correctly, the throughput, meaning the processing of these containers, into Puerto Rico for various commerce is in the hundreds per day … You can do the math, and even if their logistical system (and) their transportation system were operating optimally, you would still be looking at several days before that capacity could be distributed.
“I am concerned that some folks believed that, by waiving the Jones Act for 10 days, we were going to provide some immediate relief to the logistical challenge of getting the relief supplies distributed around Puerto Rico, and I believe it’s very clear that’s not the case,” he said. “I think we need to make sure that we stay focused on real solutions that are going to address these logistical problems, as opposed to solutions in search of problems.”
Rep. Hunter commented directly on the media coverage of the issue, and reported on statements from the administration establishing there was no need to waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico. “I’ve never seen a direct attack by the media, from MSNBC to Fox News, on an American institution like maritime – shipbuilding, ship repair, all American workers, all American made – I’ve never seen this,” he said.
He read from a statement issued by the Maritime Administration one day before the Jones Act waiver was enacted: “Waiving the Jones Act now will not provide any additional relief to the hurricane victims on the island. The U.S.-flag fleet has the capability of carrying food, water, fuel, and emergency and recovery supplies that Puerto Rico needs from the rest of the United States. The problem for Puerto Rico in the next few weeks is not procuring enough ships to carry the cargo, it is the difficulty of unloading the ships and getting the relief supplies to where they are desperately needed, given the fact that the ports, the roads, the power grid and communications have all been heavily damaged by Hurricane Maria.”
The statement concluded: “As Puerto Rico’s infrastructure is repaired, the administration may ultimately decide that additional ships are needed to serve the people. If so, CBP and MARAD should be allowed to follow the established procedures for a case-by-case review of any waiver request. There should not be any blanket waivers of the Jones Act.”
Rep. Hunter also cited statements made by Homeland Security Advisor Bossert: “If there are not U.S.-flagged vessels, the capacity in other words, to meet the need, then we waive the Jones Act. In this particular case, we had enough capacity of U.S.-flag vessels to take more than or to exceed the requirement and the need of diesel fuel and other commodities into Puerto Rico.
“The idea here is that we had provided as many commodities as were necessary to the island. The challenge became land-based distribution. That remains the challenge, that remains the priority today.”
Rep. Hunter read Bossert’s response from the transcript: “No, I would not have. And I was not recommending to the President that he waive the Jones Act at the time, until I got the governor’s request. And it may be a historical note of relevance, sometimes we’ll see the carriers request the waiver, right, so you’ll have foreign-flagged vessels or U.S.-flagged vessels, or carrier companies call us and say please waive it because there is an issue. We did not to my knowledge get any carrier requests.”
Rep. Hunter said: “Those are two things from the administration saying there was no need to waive the Jones Act. They had plenty of capacity. You have plenty of everything that you need. This was pure politics.”
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) questioned witnesses regarding the potential service of foreign vessels operating between the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico. Chiarello explained that information circulating informally was that one foreign carrier probing the possibility of moving cargo from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico had quoted a transit time of 15 days. This contrasts with TOTE’s transit time of 2 1/2 days.
Rep. DeFazio asked how that could be possible and Chiarello explained Puerto Rico would be a very small market for a foreign carrier and they would probably try to fit a port call on the island into a larger multi-national cargo route, rather than providing direct service to Puerto Rico from the U.S. mainland, as is provided by Jones Act carriers.
Rep. DeFazio ascertained from the witnesses the Jones Act does not apply to the U.S. Virgin Islands. He then commented: “I’ve been to both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and I didn’t observe any discrepancy. In fact, it seemed to me that things were more expensive in the U.S. Virgin Islands than they were in Puerto Rico.”
Roberts responded: “When we’ve looked at this in terms of the shipping rates, for example, we’ve found that the rates – and we did this a couple of years ago – the rates in the … Virgin Islands trade, again a non-Jones Act trade, were 20 to 40 percent higher than in the domestic … Puerto Rico trade. And it has to do with market size and other factors like that, but that’s the reality in those markets.”
Rep. DeFazio said: “That’s essentially reinforcing what Mr. Chiarello just said, which is Puerto Rico would sort of be like a comma in a paragraph in terms of interest of major foreign fleets and directly serving them, versus trying to squeeze it in somewhere in the schedule that makes sense for their other routes.”
Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) asked if there would be a practical effect of extending the 10-day waiver after it expires.
Chiarello responded: “It didn’t make sense to us why the waiver was put in place the first time, so an extension of the waiver would make even less sense. We have the capacity. We’re moving the freight. There isn’t a bottleneck of cargo to get to the island. The bottleneck is on the island.”
Roberts added: “Let me emphasize that our primary priority, our top priority, is to help the people of Puerto Rico get the supplies they need. And if there was a particular movement that couldn’t be satisfied with a Jones Act vessel, we would not stand in the way of getting that done quickly. That’s just not the case now.”
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) raised the point that Jones Act carriers provide inexpensive backhaul rates to businesses on Puerto Rico, carrying cargo manufactured or grown on the island to market in the U.S. mainland at a discount. The congressman emphasized getting help to Puerto Rico was a priority, but the long-term economic recovery of the commonwealth is also very important.
“I’m also concerned about the reconstitution of the industries and the businesses in Puerto Rico, and getting those goods back to the mainland,” he said. “I would like … to discuss the backhaul rates your companies offer from Puerto Rico back to the mainland and how these inexpensive rates help Puerto Rican manufacturers and other businesses serve the American markets. Because, unless we’re also concerned about that, how we’re going to help the Puerto Rican economy, we are only doing half the job here.”
Chiarello responded: “The export rates from Puerto Rico back to Florida are significantly less than the rates going from Florida down to Puerto Rico, just because of – number one – the demand, and for us, because we move so many empty containers coming out of Puerto Rico in a two-to-one trade, there are opportunities to help support that exporting community.
“There should be more opportunity for freight, and from a carrier perspective, we’re trying to work with the government and the shippers to support that.”
Roberts said: “The backhaul rates are a competitive advantage that Puerto Rico has that the other islands in the Caribbean don’t have. I would estimate, and it’s only an estimate, that you could probably get a container load of cargo from Puerto Rico to Jacksonville cheaper than you can get it from Atlanta to Jacksonville.
“They have built industry around that, and around the tax breaks that unfortunately expired, and that’s an issue,” Roberts said, referring to tax incentives for U.S. companies to locate manufacturing operations in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, which were phased out over a period of 10 years, resulting in an exodus of industry from the island.
Rep. Hunter concluded the hearing with powerful remarks on the extreme importance of maritime cabotage to the national and homeland security of the United States, and to other nations around the globe, which have cabotage laws similar to the Jones Act. He expressed his hope and expectation the Trump Administration would learn from this experience that the Jones Act waiver was not necessary, and supporting the law is essential for the U.S. in many ways.
Rep. Garamendi’s closing questions to the panel focused on the significant capital investments Jones Act carriers have made in providing dedicated service between the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico – approximately $500 million for TOTE and approximately $600 million for Crowley.
“We do have a challenge out ahead, and that is to push back against all of the ‘fake news’ surrounding the Jones Act,” Rep. Garamendi said.
By Paul Doell
National President, AMO
In what may have been the most publicly played Jones Act controversy ever, the venerable domestic shipping law was the lead in nationwide news coverage for much of the last week in September. The subject was the Jones Act factor in the official response to the catastrophic impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico – the storm, which hit the U.S. territory as a Cat 5, dumped stunning, unprecedented misery and ruin on the island.
Major news outlets nationwide had picked up quickly on a fraudulent narrative that said the Jones Act was impeding the rescue, recovery and reconstruction effort in Puerto Rico, where most residents remained without electricity, food and clean water, fuel for cars, trucks and generators, medicines and other necessary supplies and equipment on October 1.
This deliberately misleading and demonstrably false assertion was reported routinely as fact and commented upon in riled tones that inspired a narrow Congressional call for a one-year waiver of Jones Act jurisdiction in Puerto Rico – even as TOTE and Crowley Jones Act vessels were on the scene, discharging several thousand containers of relief cargoes in accessible ports.
One example: a September 28 editorial in the tabloid-tough New York Daily News, which asked: “Why on Earth would this notoriously anti-regulation administration refrain from waiving the archaic Jones Act – which only lets U.S.-flagged ships deliver fuel and other products between U.S. ports – for an island that’s on its knees?”
But U.S. maritime interests – labor and industry – fought back with a most effective weapon: the plain truth. The problem was not getting ships to Puerto Rico, but getting the aid cargoes where they were needed on an island with little or no remaining infrastructure, power, fuel or communications, with impassible roads and collapsed bridges, and with truck drivers forced to choose between reporting for work and remaining at home to protect their families and what was left of their homes.
American Maritime Officers, the Seafarers International Union, the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association and the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots presented a joint statement in defense of the Jones Act to the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee. Among its many points, this statement noted: “Foreign-flag ships with cargo from ports outside the United States are, and remain, allowed entry to Puerto Rico.”
American Maritime Partnership, a Washington-based coalition of Jones Act vessel operators and shipbuilders, circulated a comprehensive paper of such substantial scope that it was covered favorably by many news outlets, and some Jones Act carriers commented separately.
“We are committed to playing a central role in supporting Puerto Rico during this time and ensuring that all Puerto Ricans have access to basic necessities such as clean water and food as the relief and recovery efforts begin,” said Tim Nolan, president of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico. “Our ships have significant capacity, and we want to use our resources to support the island. Just one ship can carry the same amount of goods as nearly 2,000 passenger planes – and we want to make sure every shipment, every ton, every container counts.”
Crowley Maritime Corp. Vice President Jose Ayala told reporters Crowley had delivered more than 3,400 commercial containers by barge to San Juan. “These containers are full of food, water, medicine, construction materials,” he said, adding that there was no immediate way to “get it on the shelves.”
Key lawmakers also rose to the Jones Act’s defense.
“Foreign and corporate interests have long opposed the Jones Act and have spread ‘fake news’ that the law is a hindrance to Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts,” said House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA). “What is clear … is that Jones Act vessels can provide the needed capacity to bring aid to Puerto Rico, and they stand willing and able to do so.”
Subcommittee Ranking Member John Garamendi (D-CA) said the Jones Act had hastened “a robust relief effort for Puerto Rico.” He said containers “full of everything the island needs” were “languishing on the docks … because there are no trucks to deliver them.”
Both Congressmen advised against a Jones Act waiver as pointless and contrary to national interests.
The Trump administration did agree to waive the Jones Act, but only for 10 days, and with what many saw as real reluctance. As of October 1, not a single foreign-flagged cargo ship or service support vessel was in or en route to Puerto Rico with relief cargoes.
Meanwhile, the media uproar had cooled and the focus shifted in support of the Jones Act. In one especially noteworthy development, the influential, independent Breitbart News Network came down on the Jones Act’s side, fitting the law snugly into both the President’s “Hire American, Buy American” principles and national security strategy.
But the debate spawned here by crass opportunists is far from over. Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Mike Lee of Utah have filed legislation to exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act permanently. Entrenched interests who’ve devoted careers to Jones Act repeal or amendment are likely to revive their discredited Hurricane Maria mantra in support of the McCain-Lee measure, but with a slightly different spin – the charge that, over the next several months or possibly even years, the Jones Act will make it extremely difficult for the good people of Puerto Rico to rebuild their island and their lives.
There’s no real reason to believe that these interests, who exploited a deadly and destructive natural disaster so easily and so shamelessly, will ever go away. They’ll never concede that the Jones Act endures on conspicuous merit, serving legitimate U.S. economic and defense interests at no cost to U.S. taxpayers.
We can be confident as the next round develops. But we can’t be complacent.
I welcome the comments and questions of AMO members everywhere on this or any other topic. You can reach me on the headquarters office line at 954-921-2221 (ext. 1001), on the toll-free line at 800-362-0513, on my cell at 954-881-5651 or by email.
Use this link to record a position asking Congress not to repeal or revise the Jones Act.
Go to the Navy League site
NOTE: While on the NAVY LEAGUE site, look on the right side-bar for the heading “Support WWII Merchant Marine Veterans!” . Click on this title to send a notice to your Congressperson requesting that they Co-Sign HR-154 which recognizes our WWII Merchant
“America has long stood tall as a beacon of freedom thanks to the women and men of our Armed Forces who safeguard our country and our ideals with courage, honor, and selflessness. While our heroes and their families continue to give of themselves for us all, we must recognize the unthinkable pain that remains with the loved ones of those who have not returned home.” Presidential Proclamation. The White House September 18, 2015
A Fateful Day: The Sinking of the SS Jean Nicolet
“I had just come from the mess room, ﬁnished my duties, and I had grabbed an apple, and I walked out on deck. And I laid back on the top of number three hatch, enjoying my apple and looking up. The sun was going down and I was relaxing. And the torpedo hit in number three, right under me, and it blew me in the air.” William P. Flurry, Stewart Department, SS Jean Nicolet (Smithsonian Oral Histories)
On July 2, 1944 the SS Jean Nicolet, a War Shipping Administration Liberty ship operated by the Oliver J. Olson Company and commanded by Captain David Martin Nilsson was hit and sunk by torpedoes fired by the I-8 a submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy. This would become one of the worst at sea atrocities of World War II.
The first of the 2,700 Liberty ships was the SS Patrick Henry, launched on Sept. 27, 1941, and built to a standardized, mass produced design. The 250,000 parts were pre-fabricated all over the country and the 250-ton sections, complete with portholes and mirrors, were miraculously welded together in as little as four and a half days. A Liberty cost under $2,000,000. Photo and description courtesy U.S. Merchant Marine
The ship was steaming in the Indian Ocean carrying cargo and passengers into the China Burma India (CBI) theater. A few minutes after 1900 (7:00 pm) she was struck by a torpedo near holds number 2 and 3 while a second torpedo struck near hold number 4. Captain Nilsson made one of the most difficult orders a sea captain to make, he ordered the crew and passengers to abandon ship.
The Japanese submarine I-8 surfaced and took aboard some of the seamen, officers, and civilian passengers while leaving a large number in the water. The seamen taken aboard were brutally beaten, forced to crawl thru a gauntlet of Japanese sailors and some were shot as the I-8 commander taunted the men yelling insults.
“You are now my prisoners. Let this be a lesson to you that Americans are weak. You must realize that Japan will rule the world. You are stupid for letting your leaders take you to war. Do you know that the entire American fleet is now at the bottom of the Pacific?” (U.S. Armed Guards, Japanese Atrocities-The Jean Nicolet)
Captain Nilsson and two others were shoved into the conning tower never to be seen by the 23 survivors. The I-8 crew spotted an approaching aircraft and sounded the dive alarm the Japanese sailors sealed the ship to dive and left the remaining merchant mariners to survive in the water. Later, Allied aircraft that were alerted by the ships SOS dropped rafts for the men, which at this point had been in the water for 13 to 14 hours.
“Oh, I heard screams all the time, throughout the night. The sharks were getting a lot of people. I swam for, oh, I don’t know, maybe an hour or so, and I run onto another guy, who is a navy personnel — an armed guard from the Nicolet. And we swam together, and he was getting cramps regularly through the night, and I would go over and hold him up and help him and drag him along…” (Smithsonian Oral Histories)
On July 4, the HMIS Hoxa appeared on the horizon retrieving the seamen from the water and transporting them to Addu Atoll in the Maldives where they were interrogated by British Intelligence. Lost were 31 merchant mariners, 18 U.S. Naval Armed Guards, and 27 passengers. Survivors included 10 merchant mariners, 10 U.S. Naval Armed Guards, and 4 passengers.
Francis O’Hara turned up in a Yokohama prison, the Navy had already declared him KIA and a Liberty ship was named after him. He saw Captain Nilsson and Gus Tilden, the radio operator in Penang, Malaysia. He believed Captain Nilsson was put aboard a Japanese submarine or ship which some think may have been sunk by the U.S. Navy.
In 1948, O’Hara returned to Japan as a witness in the War Crimes Tribunals, but what happened to the I-8 commander is questionable some reports state he committed hari-kari while bringing his last ship the I-401 into Tokyo Bay to surrender. The last survivor William Flurry joined his shipmates on August 25, 2010. This closed the story of one of the worst at sea atrocities of the war.
Within the Chapel, the Roll of Honor Book is stored. This book, permanently housed in a brass and glass display case mounted on Vermont marble immediately in front of the altar, lists the name, rank or rating, ship and date of sinking of over 7,000 officers and seamen who lost their lives on merchant ships during both World Wars Photo courtesy U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
Although the Merchant Marine suffered high casualties during the war, they were not given veterans status until the Merchant Mariners Fairness Act of 1988. In the Merchant Marine Academy’s Chapel in Kings Point, New York, the Roll of Honor sits in front of the altar and lists the names, rank or rating, ship, and date of sinking during World Wars I and II. Each day a midshipman ceremoniously opens the display case and turns the page so that all mariners will be remembered.
To read more about the SS Jean Nicolet and the U.S. Merchant Marine in Wold War II read Heroes in Dungarees published by U.S. Naval Institute Press.
A version of this article was previously published on Naval Inelligence Professionals (C) 2015 David Mattingly
Dave Mattingly is a retired Master Chief Petty Officer, writer, and national security consultant. He is a member of the Military Writers Guild, NETGALLEY Challenge 2015 and a NETGALLEY Professional Reader.
“One thing that stands out in my memory at the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy in October of 1942 was a close friendship formed, namely Norman Vail of Tea Neck, N. J. Norman’s father was an alleged executive with Standard Oil Company, and Norm made it very clear to me that his dad “had influence” when it came to being assigned to ships in late November. Standard Oil tankers had their danger factor, but the food was reputed to be great and the quarters nothing less than luxurious. When the assignments came, instead of being assigned to a fine tanker, Norm and I found ourselves on the S.S. Gargoyle, a 1918 Socony Vacuum Oil Company tanker with a top speed of 8 knots and a capacity of breaking down on frequent occasions out at sea.
The food was passable, but the quarters for the four cadets was a kind of locker with port holes directly next to the engine room exit. During the winter time, the heat was bearable, but in the tropics, it was murder. Roaches abounded and at night would crawl over us when asleep.
I might mention that the S.S. Gargoyle had a kind of international crew left over from the old time when service in the U.S. Merchant Marine was the means that many foreigners chose to become U.S. citizens. the captain was Norwegian, Second Mate Russian from St. Petersburg, a Third Engineer from Germany, a Chinese cook, Greek pump-man and so on. American sailors were in the minority.
I might mention the Chinese cook wasn’t half bad at what he had to prepare.” On another cadet voyage months later same ship he wrote, ”One beautiful evening in August when sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, a brand spanking new tanker over took us and sailed grandly towards the horizon. I can remember standing at the rail, watching this ship with a kind of fascination and a bit of jealousy. I was about to turn away when there was a bright flash, followed by a large volume of black smoke. I had a watch cap on at the time and pulled it purposely over my eyes to keep anyone from noticing how scared I was. The time of that torpedoing was 7:22 PM.”
This was November 1942 on the S.S. Gargoyle (foreign voyage) before and after weighing anchor off Staten Island. Four cadets from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, Long Island were aboard among an international crew from the old merchant marine days. My dad was one of the cadets (graduating USMMA June 6, 1944 by then already a veteran mariner having seen plenty of action at sea). So in his own words we begin:
“One incident which I remember with great clarity was as follows: Prior to our leaving the dock to anchor off Staten Island and putting to sea a very large Coast Guard commander came aboard with an entourage of sailors and wanted to demonstrate a new life saving device intended to save the lives of sailors swimming in cold seas.
It was a heavy rubber suit which covered the whole body excepting a space for the face. The Commander was in a hurry with his demonstration and volunteered the Chinese cook much to the amusement of everyone. The object was to put the suit on and jump into the water. The Captain, who spoke with a heavy Norwegian accent, was not a bit amused and protested to the Commander that ” you can’t throw my cook in da water”! The Commander was very reassuring, “The inventors made this whole thing perfectly safe.”
The Captain’s answer was ” I don’t give a (expletive) about the inventors put a line around that (expletive).” To get the whole thing over and done with, a line was tied around the cook and he was pushed into the bay. He sank like a stone. Bubbles commenced coming up at the spot where he sank. The Captain screamed for someone to pull up on the line, and the cook was hauled up on board swearing in Chinese and threatening to kill someone if he had the chance. The Commander had in his haste neglected to insist that a life preserver be worn under the suit. The Commander, and his men, left in a great huff, but the crew were laughing about it for days.
The following day, being Sunday, and unreasonably warm for the last of November, we anchored off Staten Island. I can remember the cows being herded into a barn at a nearby farm. At around eight in the evening, we weighed anchor. I grabbed four hours of sleep prior to going on watch at 12:00 AM. When I climbed up on the bridge to join the Second Mate, on the starboard side was the burning wreckage of a single cargo vessel. No survivors. This was how close the U-boats got to our shores. We pressed on knowing any second our fate could be the same, but it rarely came up in conversation as we all went about our duties.”
Third story told still as a cadet on the S.S, Gargoyle: Dad thought this story was written up in the “Saturday Evening Post” circa 1943 but I have not researched it as yet.
“One incident which I thought was interesting concerned the Third Engineer, who was German and spoke English with great difficulty. Apparently he had become despondent, possibly feeling that he should be home fighting against the Allies instead of helping them. The mess boy and I were at the back of the ship when the Third Engineer ran past us and leaped over the ship’s fan tail in a suicide attempt. In our excitement the mess boy and I threw the engineer a broom instead of a life ring, which wasn’t far away. It is amazing what one will do when there isn’t time for logic. However, it was the broom that saved his life.
Now you have heard stories of survivors being spotted in the ocean and consequently rescued. These have to be sheer fabrication. Once in the water, a swimmer blends in incredibly with his surroundings and becomes almost invisible. The captain (Norwegian), who acted with promptness as upon learning of the man over board immediately ordered a life boat launched, being manned by the closest available sailors which included myself. The boat in question was propelled by oars, not by motor. As we rowed away from the ship, I can to this day hear the captain’s voice booming from the bridge, “He’s over dere” which happened to be quite a distance from where we were located. After we had rowed to the point where the captain indicated, we could hear, “No, No, No, he’s over dere!”. By this time my arms were in pain. It was terribly hot. I didn’t think I could lift another stroke, and then we heard a voice crying, “sharks!”.
Looking in that direction we could see the broom. When reaching that point, we pulled the engineer into our boat with numerous cuts on his body where the sharks had tried to bite him. He had literally fought the sharks off with that broom. The Third Mate Matson wrote up this account and submitted it to “The Saturday Evening Post”, and it was published in a kind of digest form.”
This next account is of the last wartime voyage of the Jeremiah O’Brien leaving July 27th 1945 and returning back to San Francisco January 22, 1946 (see the pdf attached of dad’s “Continuous Discharge Book” showing the stamped dates of departure and return). In his account he lists wartime ports of call and ports of call right after the war which I’ll will write down. His last stop was Freemantle, Australia (The War Bride Story). Now as to this I’ll write down what he said happened on that voyage (dad was Second Mate on that ship). You may or may not want to publish it as it showed the captain in an unflattering light, but here it is. Also look at the jpeg labeled May 5th 1945. This was a San Francisco night club where that night May 5th 1945 he was there with another Merchant Marine officer and their girlfriends and some other ladies. Dad is to the left looking down at his drink and holding the hand of a pretty woman to his left. His friend is on the far right of the picture. Just for human interest the club was “Dave Hersh’s Richelieu Casino” in San Francisco 1039 Gerry Street near Van Ness. Of course today I have no idea of what is there. Now to his last voyage of WW II and the ports of call.
“The remaining part of the war was spent in the South Pacific with various duties to all battle areas from Milne Bay, Holandia, Williams haven, New Guinea, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Enewetok, Funa Futi, Saipan, and lastly Australia, India, and China. Also we briefly touched down at Pitcairn Island, of Munity on the Bounty, fame. The people there were very polite and welcoming. The war did not seem to touch them and life went on there as it always had been.
At the end of the war (War Bride Story) when stopping at Fremantle, Australia we took on a non-military cargo of wool and 39 Australian war brides or wives of U.S. service men.
In addition to this the U.S. Counsel to New Zealand came aboard with his new bride and told me confidently that she was in the personal charge of the captain. In fact, the captain had made special arrangements to have her cabin right next to his in order to see “after her comforts”.
The captain, a degenerate, double dealing, lying, drunken specimen of manhood assured the Counsel, who seemed to dote on every word of the captain, that his wife would be very safe with him. He would personally see to it. I pleaded with the Counsel to put his wife’s quarters down with the other women, but he would hear nothing of it.
Well, during one of those beautiful moonlit nights when I was on watch, I saw the girl in question running down the fore deck, scantily clad, with the captain in close pursuit, saying “here kitty, kitty”. This is a true story so help me.
There was a general relief of all on board due to the war finally being over and some of the crew and the other women on board took advantage of the situation and I guess decided that any port was OK in a storm sort of speak with all night card playing and romantic activities going on in lifeboats and other hidden parts of the ship. We arrived thirty-two days later at San Francisco with all such activities at an end and life in a post war world about to begin.”