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AUGUST 29, 2018

 Good afternoon.

On behalf of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Secretary Elaine L. Chao, and Maritime Administrator Bark Buzby, I would like to thank the City of Los Angeles and Mayor (Eric) Garcetti, for inviting MARAD to weigh in at this important event.

And of course I want to thank and acknowledge all of the many federal agency partners that support humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

I’ve been asked to briefly speak to you today to convey the big picture of the Maritime administration’s response to last year’s devastating hurricane season.

Those violent storms, as you know, impacted Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, and required us to work closely with civil and local authorities in relief and recovery efforts on the ground in each of those locations.

The 2017 hurricane season in the Atlantic, the Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico was “unusually active,” to say the least.  Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria caused massive destruction and significant loss of life across the U.S. Gulf Coast and in the Caribbean, sea – particularly in the commonwealth of Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands.

going back to the beginning, as hurricane Harvey approached the Texas coast in September of 2017, MARAD closely monitored the storm and prepared for action.

What that means is that our office of ship operations began staffing the department of transportation’s crisis management center — and MARAD’s command (coordination) center. That work continued for more than 50 days straight.  Our office of ship operations also coordinated the activations of four of our vessels; Training Ships Kennedy, Empire State and General Rudder, and the Ready Reserve Force Aviation Logistics Support Vessel Wright.

And it began churning out detailed daily briefs for both the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and MARAD Administrator Buzby. Those briefs provided accurate, late-breaking information gathered from hundreds of personnel from myriad government agencies, military commands and NGO’s.

The four ships were activated in accordance with pre-scripted, FEMA, -established mission protocols designed to provide wide-ranging “berthing vessel support” for relief and response personnel on the scene.

Additional MARAD personnel were deployed to support those ships as well as the FEMA,  National Response Coordination Center (NRCC).

Those personnel worked to facilitate communications and access to local commercial services — and also helped coordinate activities of regional response coordination centers.

As the succession of storms continued, MARAD was directly involved in the approach, impact — and aftermath — of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Harvey struck Texas as a category 4 storm, spawned a flurry of tornadoes, and brought more than 40 inches of rain while displacing more than 30,000 people — including some MARAD employees in the gulf region.  MARAD has both a field office and a reserve fleet anchorage in beaumont, Texas, and both were very hard hit.

Beginning with Harvey, ship operations supported the use of the general rudder to berth and feed responders during the critical early days of the response. Shortly after, the ts kennedy proceeded to corpus christi where she provided responder berthing and feeding.

Hurricanes irma and Maria followed quickly, bringing suffering and destruction to the us virgin islands, puerto rico, and southern florida.

During each storm MARAD fulfilled multiple rapid-response mission assignments for the federal emergency management agency, or FEMA, .

With each hurricane landfall, MARAD vessels shifted across five locations, providing meals and berthing over a two-month period for several hundred responders from myriad federal, state and local governments and volunteer organizations.

Initially, these efforts helped to free up living space for residents who had been displaced and to centralize support for relief workers.

The school ships KennedyEmpire State, and General Rudder — each part of MARAD’s National Defense Reserve Fleet, were called upon beginning September 1st, 2017.

The Aviation Logistic Support Ship Wright of MARAD’s Ready Reserve Force, was called up on September 5th.
These activations were done under FEMA, mission assignments, not DSCA, via the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.

From its layberth in Galveston, TX, the General Rudder activated and provided support following hurricane Harvey from September 7 through September 25.

Its proximity to Harvey’s landfall allowed General Rudder to offer immediate assistance, but a much larger school ship soon followed. The TS (training ship) Kennedy, having just returned from a summer training voyage, also quickly deployed for Ingleside, Texas where it provided relief and support from September 16 through September 20.

After the landfall of Hurricane Maria Kennedy was redirected to the Caribbean, and reassigned to san Juan, Puerto Rico, where it provided support from September 7 through November 9.

Empire state was initially activated at SUNY Maritime Academy in New York with the intent of supporting the Hurricane Harvey recovery effort. But when Hurricane Irma hit Florida, that vessel was reassigned — en route to Texas — and transited to Key West.
It docked at the Navy Key West pier on September 17 and began first responder berthing operations, providing berthing and meals until September 27.

Hurricane Maria’s near knockout punch in Puerto Rico drastically altered our response logistics.

It demanded a rapid reshuffling and consolidating of resources to support responders from a multitude of federal, state, local and non-government agencies.

After Maria’s landfall, empire state was again reassigned to San Juan, Puerto Rico — where it provided support from October 2 through October 18.

On September 5th SS Wright was called up to provide similar support as well as to deliver essential cargo to the eastern Caribbean. As an aviation maintenance ship, Wright is most often used as a platform for the us marine corps to effect at-sea repairs on rotary wing aircraft and other machinery.

With a berthing capacity of 350 marines, significant cargo space, and crane capacity, it is an ideal candidate for disaster response.

Wright departed Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands following hurricane Harvey. Prior to departing, it was loaded with FEMA, vehicles, critical FAA flight control components, pallets of water, and shipping containers full of other essentials.

As Hurricane Maria approached and then passed, Wright was forced to briefly divert, but then steamed full-speed far to the south with a flotilla of U.S. Navy vessels preparing to assist in the area. Following Maria’s landfall, Wright provided support from September 25 through October 16.
In addition to providing meals and berthing for hurricane relief, MARAD vessels also provided protected storage for government vehicles and assets through the Safestor program.

As hurricane Irma veered toward Charleston, South Carolina, for instance, the vessel Cape Decision took aboard 87 vehicles and watercraft from a dozen different state, local and federal agencies that may have been damaged or destroyed had they remained ashore.

Instead, if Charleston had suffered a direct hit, those vehicles would have been prepared to deploy as soon as the storm passed to begin rescue and law enforcement efforts.

Luckily Irma passed by Charleston and the vehicles were quickly redeployed from the ship.

In all, MARAD vessels provided over 53,000 meals and 23,000 berths over the two-month period for several hundred responders in multiple locations for multiple storms. These collective actions greatly assisted FEMA, ’s efforts to restore basic services, health care, food and water to devastated communities and population centers unable to provide for themselves.

To say that the hurricanes were a good test for our U.S.-flag fleet is an understatement. But I can say our crews stood tall. In my book, they were heroes. They answered the call, they stayed the course, and they saved lives.

We consider this very good news for our maritime industry and the U.S. Merchant Marine, but it wasn’t a surprise to us that they responded so efficiently, and dependably.

There have been a lot of narratives floating around in the media about our nation’s maritime response, in particular, to hurricane Maria – most of which were flat out false.

At least as it involves the U.S. Merchant Marine and U.S.-flag vessels — beginning just two days after Maria hit, U.S.-flag jones act ships began bringing cargo into Puerto Rican terminals faster than it could be distributed.

We began building the “iron mountain” of essential supplies and cargo that would help the island recover — and that was in addition to supplies that had already been brought in for contingencies prior to the storm’s arrival.

And yet, those same shippers were vilified in the press for delaying the flow of relief supplies. I’ll say it again — the U.S. Merchant Marine delivered in that crisis.

And, when it had to, it flexed and did its job despite all of the accusations and false narratives being thrown about in the media. And that’s good news for our nation – our friends and allies – and for all of us here.

I will conclude by saying that – in the midst of a truly devastating hurricane season – we were gratified and, frankly, impressed at the level of local, regional, and national coordination achieved to assist those impacted by the hurricanes, and to collaborate effectively in relief and recovery efforts once the storms had passed.

We learned a lot and also discovered that our plans, key personnel, and available assets worked together as intended. There were some tough challenges, but our piece of the nation’s response capability — the ready reserve fleet and the U.S. Merchant Mariners who crewed our vessels – are to be commended for answering the call.

Thank you and I’m happy to answer any questions.

Updated: Monday, November 19, 2018