After a weekend that began with hope and ended in heartbreak, more than 7,500 employees around the world marked a moment together.
By Hilary Reeves
At 11 a.m. on October 6, the bell on the Midnight Sun rang out across the Port of Anchorage. Nearby, Matson’s MV Tacoma echoed her bell for bell. The sound carried over phone lines to offices in Fairbanks, Tacoma and Federal Way, where employees of TOTE Maritime Alaska stood in solidarity with TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and TOTE Services employees in Jacksonville to honor the 33 fallen crew of the El Faro. They were not alone.
More than 7,500 employees of Saltchuk sister companies throughout the nation – from the islands of Hawaii up the West Coast, from Los Angeles and Seattle, to the Eastern seaboard and into the Bahamas – joined together in silence, tears, hope and fear, connected by the tragic events unfolding.
“We have lost part of our family, and it is heart-wrenching,” wrote Saltchuk President Tim Engle and Chairman Mark Tabbutt in a joint statement to employees of Saltchuk companies last week.
The El Faro is believed to have sunk in Caribbean waters on October 1 after the ship lost propulsion in the path of Hurricane Joaquin. Less than a week later, Foss Atlantic Operations Coordinator Lisa Holtz rose silently at the appointed time, the lone employee present in the company’s office in Mobile, Alabama.
“I was all alone here when I stood to pray, but I didn’t feel alone since I knew Saltchuk folks all over the country were doing so as well,” she said. “As soon as I heard about the ship being lost, I imagined our crew in a similar circumstance, and so I could only feel empathy and sorrow for the crew and their families.”
Jeff Landrum, vice president, Maintenance & Fleet Planning for Northern Aviation Services, was in Prague attending an aviation industry conference. He, too, stood alone.
“While I was alone in Prague, I stood…in honor of our brothers and sisters lost on the El Faro,” he said. “I am comforted knowing that no matter who we are or where we are, we are part of a family of companies that are caring and sincerely concerned about each other’s well-being. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the El Faro crew and the families affected by this tragedy.”
In Anchorage and Hawaii, employees of Northern Air Cargo, Aloha Air Cargo, Northern Air Maintenance Services, and Aloha Tech Ops joined together.
“Many employees were visibly moved by the tribute, and it had great value for our team,” said David Karp, president and CEO of Northern Air Cargo. “It’s clear that the impacts are greater than we might have imagined. The biggest challenge for (our) team was having such a strong desire to help, yet being unable to offer any practical support. The ability to connect through the tribute was an opportunity for us to connect with our colleagues, and thus an outlet for the desire to support and ultimately grieve with everyone else in the Saltchuk family.”
Members of the ILWU Local 23 at the Port of Tacoma, where TOTE’s MV North Star sails to and from Anchorage, presented a wreath for Master Mark Daly to float in the Gulf of Alaska.
From the ship, he wrote back:
“At 10:30 ADT today [October 10] in position Latitude 58 25.0 North, Longitude 149 12.5 West, a wreath was laid and ceremony held to honor our brothers and sisters who perished on October 1, 2015 in the tragic sinking of the SS El Faro. May God bless them and keep them forever safe.”
“We continue to pray for our brothers and sisters of the El Faro, and the rest of our ‘Ohana’ at TOTE Maritime,” echoed Tiki Kaipo, supervisor of Ground Operations for Aloha Air Cargo in Kona, Hawaii. “Although we’ve not had the privilege of meeting this part of our family, they still live in the hearts of many. We continue to pray for peace and understanding, and know that in time all truths will be revealed…We believe that God held them in the palm of his hand way before they felt even a whisper of wind on their cheeks.”
TOTE has partnered with The Seamen’s Church Institute, North America’s largest mariners service agency, to create a fund that will support the families and loved ones of the crew of the El Faro. Saltchuk will match all employee donations.
Information about the fund can be found here: http://elfaroincident.com/family-fund/