By Tracy Murrell
National Maritime Day was created by Congress in 1933 to recognize the maritime industry and specifically the merchant mariner. The day of observation is May 22 which marks the date in 1819 that the steamship SS Savannah got underway from Savannah, Georgia beginning what would become the first ever transoceanic voyage using steam power. Although she did need the help of her sails for much of the voyage, the trip was symbolic both for the maritime industry as well as the United Stated in that she displayed the innovation and technological leadership needed to embark on such an endeavor.
On this day, I’m sure every mariner takes time to reflect on their personal adventures at sea while remembering those who have lost their lives in this dynamic and often dangerous environment. During World War II mariners played a key role in the Allied victory. But victory took a heavy toll on mariners. Hundreds of merchant ships were sunk by enemy action and one in 30 mariners did not return home.
For me, this day reminds me of the first ship I ever sailed on, also a steam ship, called the USTS Texas Clipper. I joined this ship the day after graduating high school to embark on an adventure that ultimately developed my love for the sea as well as a healthy respect for the often unpredictable situations merchant mariners’ experience.
At the NTSB I am privileged to work with a group of merchant mariners whose sole focus is safety at sea. Throughout my career I have learned the importance of sharing information transparently, especially when it comes to safety and that is exactly what the NTSB does. We see the unfortunate and tragic results of mariners being involved in preventable accidents but take pride in our ability to understand what happened and share important lessons through safety alerts, brief accident reports and more detailed full investigative reports. In most cases, there is something in them that every mariner can relate to and learn from to apply positive changes in their daily routines onboard.
Today, let’s take time to honor the men and women have served and continue to serve in the US Merchant Marine.
Tracy Murrell is the Director of the NTSB’s Office of Marine Safety.