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Alaska Seafarers In The News

Making Mariners
Shippers and union help Alaskans work toward careers at sea


(Published: September 16, 2003) story photo
Boatswain John Glenn and deckhand Eileen Lammers were among three Alaskans on the crew of the North Star when it arrived in Anchorage. Lammers is believed to be the first Alaska Native woman to graduate from the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in Piney Point, Md. (Photo by Jim Lavrakas / Anchorage Daily News) story photo
The MV North Star cargo ship sits at the Port of Anchorage last week after its maiden voyage to Alaska. The ship was being loaded for its return trip to Tacoma, Wash. (Photo by AL GRILLO / The Associated Press) story photo
Totem Ocean Trailer Express' $155 million North Star is one of two new TOTE ships. Each can carry 600 40-foot trailers and 220 automobiles, almost double the capacity of TOTE's older vessels. (Photo by Jim Lavrakas / Anchorage Daily News) story photo
Eileen Lammers of Ketchikan is a deck and engine hand on Totem Ocean Trailer Express Inc.'s new 839-foot container ship, the MV North Star. Lammers, 20, graduated from the Seafarers International Union's maritime training apprenticeship program in Piney Point, Md. (Photo by AL GRILLLO / The Associated Press)

ABOARD THE MV NORTH STAR -- If Eileen Lammers was exhausted after working all night in the engine room and talking all morning to the media, it didn't show.

The sailor bounded into the ship's lounge one afternoon last week, ready for another interview. After a quick hello, she launched into an elaborate story about how she keeps a pet seal onboard. And how John Glenn, the boatswain and also an Alaskan, has a pet bear. Then she grinned, waiting for everyone in the room to catch on to her little joke.

The petite, friendly 20-year-old from Ketchikan works as a merchant mariner onboard the MV North Star, the new cargo ship owned by Totem Ocean Trailer Express. She said she sometimes tells tall tales about life in Alaska because so many people find that background curious.

Merchant mariner positions are good jobs -- entry-level commercial sailors licensed to work on the big cargo ships make about $30,000 a year -- but the slots were not going to Alaskans.

Thanks to a local-hire program sponsored by the Seafarers International Union, the demographics on cargo ships heading to Alaska are slowly changing. Last week, when the North Star docked in Anchorage, there were three Alaskans onboard out of a crew of 28. Besides Lammers, there were Glenn, the boatswain, and Deocadio "Oscar" Romney, an able-bodied seaman. Both are longtime Anchorage residents.

The fact that the North Star had Alaskans onboard had union officials, company executives and politicians beaming with pride as TOTE hosted a party in honor of that vessel and another large new ship in its fleet, the MV Midnight Sun. Officials said they are pleased so far with the results of a local recruiting program aimed at enrolling Alaskans in an apprentice program at the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in Piney Point, Md.

"It's a sign that the program is working," said Rich Berkowitz, director of Pacific coast operations for the Transportation Institute, a trade association that works closely with the union.

The way the story goes, the local recruiting effort got started in 1997 after Rep. Don Young visited a cargo ship in Alaska waters and wanted to speak to the Alaska hires. None could be found. Since then, the union has set up an office here. And about 75 Alaskans have graduated from or are attending the apprentice program at the Paul Hall Center, Berkowitz said. Dozens more Alaskans have attended the center for advanced training to help further their careers in the merchant marine, he said.

Lammers, a Haida and Nisgha Indian from Ketchikan, is believed to be the first Alaska Native woman to graduate from the school. Lammers said she learned about the program from a recruiter at SEA Link, a nonprofit agency in Ketchikan that tries to find jobs for Alaskans interested in maritime careers.

After dropping out of high school in Ketchikan, Lammers graduated from the Alaska Military Youth Academy at Fort Richardson and then returned to Ketchikan to start college at age 17. She was taking accounting classes at the University of Alaska but didn't find it fulfilling. Then she learned about the merchant marine.

"It sounded exciting," she said.

Lammers said she likes the quasi-military feel of the industry. Mariners are civilian commercial sailors who are sometimes called to military service. The expectation is that they will serve when asked, but it is not mandatory, Berkowitz said.

"I have always been a firm believer in fighting for my country," Lammers said. "But I also love my freedom."

Good pay was another draw, as was the ocean.

"The economy here is bad," said Lammers' mother, Angelina, speaking by phone from Ketchikan. "What do the kids here have?"

Angelina Lammers said Eileen always had a strong personality, a keen intelligence and determination. But without the right motivation, she floundered for a while in her teen years. When she found out about the merchant marine apprenticeship, it seemed a perfect fit. Eileen didn't debate for long before shipping out, her mother said.

Eileen Lammers said last week that she feels comfortable working on ships because Haida Indians are water people.

"We live on an island," she said. "I've always been on the water."

At the Paul Hall Center, Lammers spent the first 12 weeks learning basic skills like how to fight a ship fire, understand nautical terms, tie knots and operate a lifeboat. Then apprentices go to sea for 90 days to learn a variety of jobs.

Lammers took a training job with the Alaska Tanker Co., transporting crude oil from Valdez to Long Beach, Calif. Apprentices work for 90 days at sea, then return to the school for another six to eight weeks of specialized training focusing on deck, engine or steward work. Lammers chose to become a general utility deck engine, or GUDE. Her job is to help maintain the engine room.

At school, the apprentices sleep in barracks-style housing and march to classes. On the job, they have more freedom and sleep in large, private rooms. In her quarters, Lammers has a television, a DVD player and a video game console for entertainment when she's off-duty. Glenn has a computer.

Training at the school and room and board, estimated at about $25,000, is paid for entirely by the union through its contracted companies. In Alaska, those include TOTE, Horizon Lines and the Alaska Tanker Co. Travel, uniforms and other costs may be covered by the Workforce Investment Act program, Berkowitz said. Applicants must be at least 18 to be eligible. All successful graduates are guaranteed their first assignment, he said.

Glenn, 57, said he also attended classes at the Piney Point school, getting advanced training in first aid and firefighting. He joined the merchant marine in 1969 as a young man in his home country of the Philippines but has lived in Anchorage since 1985.

As boatswain, Glenn oversees maintenance on the ship. He also thinks of himself as "father of the crew" because he helps out other crew members sort out problems.

In 33 years at sea, Glenn said, he has served in three wars and traveled three or four times around the globe. He enjoys seeing different parts of the world but misses his wife, four kids and eight grandkids when he's working.

"But that's the business," he said. "It's something you have to do."

Lammers has experienced some homesickness too, but now that she's on the North Star, she feels more connected to Alaska. She has adopted grandparents in Anchorage and sees them whenever she has time on the weekly runs, she said. Each round trip from Tacoma to Anchorage takes about a week, she said.

Her grandmother Joanne Graham attended Tote's party for the ship last week. Graham said she is proud of her granddaughter.

"When she wants something, she'll go after it," Graham said. "She did this for herself."

Her parents are also proud of her choice but can't help worrying, said Angelina Lammers.

Both Lammers and Glenn were called to support the military during the recent war in Iraq. Starting in February, both spent about four months on ships transporting military supplies from the United States to the Middle East.

Lammers said she couldn't call home for a month and a half during the war.

"That was horrible," said her mother.

Both ships were among the first in Kuwait City at the start of hostilities. Lammers said she remembers standing in the galley and hearing six long shots go off, indicating an attack. Then she heard missiles overheard. Because they had just arrived, they didn't even have chemical suits onboard yet.

"That was very, very scary," she said.

Eventually, though, she got to feeling safer. During frequent gas alerts, soldiers would run to the ship because of its watertight doors.

Glenn said he also heard missiles overhead while docked in Kuwait City. And one hit so close that the impact pushed the ship away from the dock, he said.

Lammers said she joined the merchant marines in part because of the travel. But after her war experiences, she said, she is happy just to be back home in Alaska waters.

"I'm not going foreign for a while," she said. "I've set my footsteps where they need to be, and I'm not going back."

Daily News reporter Elizabeth Manning can be reached at or 907-257-4323.


July, 2002

SEA Link, Inc. an Alaskan non-profit organization, is happy to announce the opening of their new office in Ketchikan, Alaska. SEA Link is now located above Bar Harbor boat basin at 2723 Tongass Ave. behind Heavenly Creations.

SEA Link, Inc. was developed out of a grant through the Alaska Department of Labor, Job training Workforce Development Division, (Federal Workforce Investment Act Funds). SEA Link works state wide with displaced workers from the fishing and timber industry, low income adults, and both in school and out of school youth, helping place them in maritime training programs. Once a candidate finishes training they are guaranteed a job working aboard American Flagged ships either here in Alaska or around the world, or aboard Military Sealift Command Vessels.

For information call (907) 247-5769 or (888) 577-7453 or E-mail ******************************************************************************************

May 29, 2002


Hats Off To Anchorage Mariners For Their Career Achievements

ANCHORAGE, AK- The Alaska Tanker Company (ATC) and the Seafarers International Union (SIU) are hosting a luncheon reception to congratulate Jerry Maya, Allan Oyao, Fernando Oyao, and Deocadio Romney, all of Anchorage, upon their successful completion of training at the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in Piney Point, Maryland. The Paul Hall Center is a union and employer-financed training school. Congressman Don Young, representatives of BP, the honorees, and the Alaska Department of Labor are expected to attend the noon luncheon at the Anchorage Sheraton on Friday, May 31, 2002.

The honorees are resident Alaskans who began their seagoing careers as "riding-gang" maintenance workers aboard Alaska Tanker Company vessels. Created to satisfy a need for ongoing maintenance at sea, the riding-gang provides routine upkeep and repairs of vessels to reduce time in dry dock. As a riding-gang worker it is difficult to earn the sea-time credit necessary to pursue further training. However, the U.S. Coast Guard granted the required sea-time credit to upgrade their skills. These former riding-gang members are now U.S. Coast Guard-certified able-bodied seafarers employed by Alaska Tanker Company. SIU representative Harold Holten stated, "We are particularly pleased with the cooperation received from the Coast Guard and the Alaska State Department of Labor in assuring these folks had the opportunity to pursue their training and career goals."

Graduates of the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education are eligible to seek a career aboard U.S.-flag Jones Act merchant ships serving Alaska, other domestic U.S. markets, or in our nation's international trade. Each riding-gang member was required to pass USCG examinations in lifeboat and water survival and safety, marine firefighting, first aid, oil spill response, and able-seaman training in order to obtain regular employment as an able-bodied seafarer.

This program is a nearly five-year-old effort to train Alaskans for employment aboard U.S. commercial vessels. According to Bill Cole, Alaska Tanker Company's Labor Relations Director, "We are delighted to have Alaskans as seagoing employees of ATC and are proud to further Congressman Young's vision of expanding local hire opportunities for Alaskans aboard U.S.-flag vessels. This is a true public/private/labor partnership that continues to achieve and surpass its goals of providing quality maritime jobs for Alaskans."

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