By Paul Doell
We're closing out a remarkable year for American Maritime Officers, which experienced continued expansion of its fleet roster and job base, sustained security of the benefit funds that serve all AMO members and their families, evolving opportunities and ongoing economic reform that found our union firmly on the right side of the financial ledger.
By December 1, the AMO deep-sea fleet in 2017 had grown by seven ships, most of them newly built Jones Act petroleum product tankers delivered by Philly Shipyard in Philadelphia or by the NASSCO yard in San Diego.
Intrepid Personnel and Provisioning, a unit of the sprawling, third-generation family-owned Crowley Maritime Corp., operates four of these five vessels - the American Endurance, American Freedom, American Liberty and Palmetto State - for American Petroleum Tankers (APT). Separately, one additional tanker joined the fleet operated under AMO contract by Eco-Tankers.
In the deep-sea dry cargo sector, AMO engine and deck officers filled the licensed jobs on two new U.S.-reflagged roll-on/roll-off ships - the Liberty, which is operated by ARC in foreign trade through the Maritime Security Program, and the Liberty Peace, which does not participate in the MSP, but which is operated internationally under an agreement between AMO and North Star Shipping.
On the inland waters front, AMO members in the Seabulk Towing and Crescent Towing/Savannah fleets welcomed the Advanced Rotor Tug Trident and the tug Arkansas, respectively.
On the Great Lakes, the dry bulk trades dominated by our union were more brisk than they've been in recent years. For example, shipments of iron ore - the principal cargo on the Lakes - were pacing well ahead of the volume recorded in 2016.
Meanwhile, additional tonnage heading for operation under AMO contract was at varied points of construction in U.S. shipyards.
On November 20, Philly Shipyard delivered the Jones Act tanker American Pride to complete a four-ship series ordered by APT. American Maritime Officers fills all of the licensed positions on this vessel.
In March, VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, MS, launched the El Coquí, the first of a pair of LNG fueled combination container-roll-on/roll-off ships for Crowley. The El Coquí and her sister ship, the Taíno, which was launched December 4, will operate under AMO contract in Jones Act service between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico.
Crowley made additional news November 1 when it announced that its Crowley Alaska Tankers LLC subsidiary had acquired the tankers Liberty Bay, Eagle Bay and SR American Progress from SeaRiver Maritime Inc. These ships will operate under AMO contract, beginning in 2018.
Government contract awards also factored into the enhanced job security our union gained this year.
In one example, AMO retained its engine and deck jobs on the T-AGS vessels USNS Heezen, USNS Pathfinder, USNS Mary Sears, USNS Henson, USNS Bowditch and USNS Maury when Military Sealift Command shifted the operating contract from Maersk Line's USMMI unit to Ocean Ships Inc. - and we regained the licensed jobs on the USNS Waters in the same contract award.
AMO also retained jobs and jurisdiction on seven Bob Hope Class LMSRs when MSC awarded the contract to USMMI. American Overseas Marine, or AMSEA, had been the operator of these ships - USNS Bob Hope, USNS Benavidez, USNS Brittin, USNS Fisher, USNS Mendonca, USNS Pililaau and USNS Seay.
Additional jobs came home to AMO when MSC awarded the operating contract governing four more LMSRs - USNS Gordon, USNS Gilliland, USNS Shughart and USNS Yano - to Ocean Ships. Patriot Contract Services, which employs members of the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association and the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, had been the operator of these vessels.
The cumulative impact of this ever-broadening AMO job base is felt as well in AMO Plans, the well-managed benefit funds that provide diverse, comprehensive and innovative benefits to all AMO members and membership applicants and their families. Each new job represents additional employer contributions to the AMO Medical, Pension, Money Purchase Benefit, Defined Contribution, 401(k), Vacation and Safety & Education Plans. The new revenue, sound administration and strong returns on investments had by December 1 combined to bring AMO Plans assets to record high value.
On the union side of Federal Highway in Dania Beach, the timely payment of AMO membership dues and initiation fees continued to spike significantly this year through both direct payment to the union via several options and through authorized deductions from benefits earned from the AMO Vacation Plan. Coupled with an effective operating cost containment policy in place at AMO headquarters, this phenomenal development keeps the books in healthy income-expense balance, and I see this as a productive financial partnership between this administration and the seagoing AMO membership. One result is that 2018 will mark four consecutive years without a dues or initiation fee increase.
As always, I welcome comments and questions from all deep-sea, Great Lakes and inland waters AMO members on the topics addressed here or on any other matter. And, on behalf of the National Executive Board of AMO and our union's support staff, I wish every AMO family the healthiest and happiest Christmas holiday season and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.