The End of an Era? Will These Ships Be Back?

The port of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania was the temporary home to two U.S. flagged cargo vessels this past weekend. Far from family, the merchant mariners onboard the container ship Maersk Alabama and the bulk carrier Liberty Glory were in this East African port offloading cargo, much as they have in ports ranging from Hodeidah, Yemen to Mombasa, Kenya. These exotic sounding cities are far from the norm for most Americans, but for the close to 50 U.S. merchant mariners onboard these vessels, on that day, it was home.Dar es Salaam

Maersk Alabama and Liberty Glory are operated by far different companies and crewed by officers from different unions, but there is one common denominator: They have both benefited from the Food for Peace program. Without such programs, it is unlikely that these vessels from the United States would have met in this far off land. For the U.S. mariners, it is an opportunity to work in a challenging and dynamic industry. For some of the 923 million hungry and starving people in the world, it is much more personal: They get to eat.

Much has been said in the press recently about changes to the Food for Peace program. President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget calls for major changes to this program. Specifically, he would rather that we write foreign countries and non-governmental organizations (NGO) a check so that they can buy food whenever and wherever they see fit. The perceived goal? Cost savings.

For the U.S. mariner’s on these vessels, it’s personal. One, it’s their jobs – jobs such that the Obama administration or any other country would wish to create. Two, with every call to these distant ports, with every cup of coffee or joke shared with the local longshoremen, with every successful cargo evolution, it’s personal. For the U.S. seaman, it’s not just a newspaper story about poor and starving, it’s the spare pair of coveralls or old work shoes that you give to the longshoreman that doesn’t have any. It’s the donations that these crews give to the local orphanages. It’s the warm handshake of the people you have worked with for years.

President Obama feels that the outsourcing of U.S. farmers’ and merchant mariners’ jobs is the most efficient way of using their tax dollars. Perhaps the bags of grain will still be stamped, “ USAID, From the American People,” but it will no longer be personal. For the U.S. farmers and merchant mariners, it will be, though. They’ll be looking for jobs.

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