“Storm the Hill” gang to reunite for 2018 efforts

On the week of National Maritime Day 2017, a crew led by Past AMMV President Morris Harvey visited Congress and attended a ceremony at the Department of Transportation building. These “Storm the Hill” efforts were designed to educate members of Congress in the importance of passing H.R. 154: The Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2017, introduced by Congressman Al Green of Texas. A previous STH had been done in 2015 in support of similar legislation.

The 2017 team (pictured below in front of the D.O.T. building) included (L to R): Morris Harvey (Ocala Chapter); Robert Weagant (Midwest Chapter); Sheila Sova (AMMV Special Projects & Veterans Outreach); Charles A. Mills (Lonestar Chapter); Laura Johnson Riddle (Member-at-Large); and Eugene Barner (Member-at-Large). The 2018 group will be led by Charles Mills and is comprised mostly of the same members.

This time around, in addition to promoting H.R. 154, the group will also be asking for support of S. 2127: The Merchant Mariners of WWII Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2017, introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. S. 2127 had not yet been introduced at the time of last year’s STH efforts.

Please tune in to AMMV’s official Facebook and Twitter platforms for timely coverage of the 2018 Storm the Hill.

WWII MM Vet Robert Weagant shakes hands with Rep. Brian Mast of Florida.

A case to support H.R. 154: The true story of WWII Merchant Mariner Leonard Blake

Leonard Row was just a 15-year old boy when he was turned away by a U.S. Navy recruiter because of his age. However, he was advised that the Maritime Service would happily accept him. Leonard then signed-up to train at the Catalina Island facility, which prepped young men to crew the merchant vessels that carried food, ammunitions, and other vital supplies to Allied forces worldwide.

Leonard was serving on the Mary A. Livermore early in his seagoing career when an incident occurred that changed his life forever. On May 28th, 1945, while anchored near Okinawa, a Kamikaze crashed into the Livermore. Eleven men died and seven were severely injured, including Leonard. One of the dead was his close friend, Robert E. Blake.

S/S Mary A. Livermore following Kamikaze attack

Leonard’s legs were completely shattered and part of one foot was missing. The doctors wanted to amputate his legs but Leonard pleaded against this. It would be a long road to only partial recovery, as he walks with a limp and a cane to this day.

Upon returning to the states, Leonard was released from military care and turned over a public health hospital; the U.S. military would no longer assist. He was essentially on his own.

Leonard recalls one incident when his peers kicked out his crutches and called him a “draft dodger”. Ironically, this seems to have been common public perception of the WWII Merchant Marine

Names of those lost from the Livermore, etched into the Walls of Honors at the American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial in San Pedro, CA.

Eventually, Leonard was adopted by the parents of his lost friend and shipmate Robert Blake. The Blake family helped Leonard pay his medical bills, and Leonard Row became Leonard Blake.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, during signing of GI Bill on June 22, 1944, stated, “I trust Congress will soon provide similar opportunities to members of the Merchant Marine who have risked their lives time and time again during war for the welfare of their country.”

It was 43 years later in 1988 when our U.S. Merchant Mariners of WWII were finally granted Veteran status. There were no benefits in the interim, and by this point in time these men were at or near retirement age, unable to capitalize on any of the watered-down benefits now bestowed upon them. Leonard Blake served his county honorably and was not afforded the care or recognition that was intended by Roosevelt. Thousands of other surviving Merchant Mariners had their own unique stories.

Legislation has been around for several sessions of Congress with the intent of righting this injustice by providing our Merchant Marine Veterans some form of monetary payment to compensate for this lifetime of loss. The current bill is H.R. 154: The Honoring Our WWII Merchant Mariners Act of 2017. If enacted, this would provide our seagoing heroes with a lump sum payment of $25,000.

Please ask your Congressperson to support H.R. 154. It’s time.

Click HERE to print out a form letter to mail to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs asking for support of H.R. 154.

Click HERE to help Leonard Blake gain recognition.


Will U.S. Merchant Mariners who served in support of the Korean Conflict obtain Veteran status?

Will U.S. Merchant Mariners who served in support of the Korean Conflict obtain Veteran status?

AMMV Government Affairs Co-Chair Michael Helbig has been working diligently for over two full years on compiling a group application to submit to the Civilian/Military Service Review Board (C/MSRB) with the end goal of obtaining Veteran status for American Merchant Mariners who served in support of the Korean Conflict.

The C/MSRB is made up of Air Force personnel who are assigned as needed to review cases of civilian groups applying for Veteran status. It is clear that Helbig has his work cut out for him, as “the Board” revised it rules following the successful lawsuit won by the WWII U.S. Merchant Marine group back in 1988. The current eligibility criteria for a Merchant Marine group may be considered somewhat daunting.

Michael Helbig

However, Helbig is a master researcher who refuses to leave a stone unturned. His casework is meticulous, and he has poured thousands of hours of work into this project. In fact, Helbig was recognized with the Harvey-Wichita Award at AMMV’s National Convention in St. Louis. This is the equivalent to a “Man of the Year” award, something that he has certainly earned.

AMMV Judge Advocate Capt. Joseph Byrne is assisting Helbig by reviewing files and providing opinions. Capt. Byrne met with Helbig during the AMMV Convention.


Click HERE for an overview of Helbig’s casework.

Click HERE for an update (March 2018) on Helbig’s work.

The U.S. Merchant Marine were the unsung heroes of the Korean War



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.


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.
Go to the Navy League site

Congressional hearing injects the facts about the Jones Act and Puerto Rico into Capitol Hill 

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.”

  1. Hunter noted that Bossert was asked: “Had Governor Rossello not requested proactively a waiver of the Jones Act, would you have seen a compelling reason to initiate a waiver?”

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.