From: Captain Manny
Sent: Thursday, September 24, 2009 1:49:58 PM
Subject: ISC Financial Crisis at LA/LB Harbor
TO: SAM SAUSE @ OAKLAND INTER'L MARITIME CENTER
MARIA ISABEL SOTO @ NLUS-PMMC
PHELPS @ NLUS-PMMC
Dear Sam, Maria, and Phelps:
Many thanks for your recent correspondence, following up the article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times last week, and which described our dire financial straits we are currently facing at the International Seafarers Center for LA/LB Harbor. I especially appreciated your offer of support and involvement from the Navy League of the United States (NLUS), and from the NLUS Pacific Merchant Marine Council (PMMC) in particular. God bless you for that outreach to us!
We've just conducted our annual fund-raiser here at LA/LB Harbor -- called the "Maritime Industry Salute and Great Tug Races on San Pedro Bay" event -- and it is held aboard the venerable RMS QUEEN MARY each year. This year we honored Capt. Jerry Aspland (former CEO for Arco Marine, and President Emeritus from the California Maritime Academy). This event also features a series of races between tugs, work boats, law enforcement vessels, high speed ferries, pilot boats, and others -- followed by fabulous boat parade for all to see from the stern decks of the QM. After the races and parade are completed, we all adjourn to the Britannia Room for the Maritime Industry Salute banquet. This has become one of the "highlight events" for LA/LB Harbor each year, and we have been holding this annual fundraiser for over 20 years now. Everyone who attends finds it to be an exciting, fun, and memorable affair.
But as you've noted, these tough economic times are having a telling effect on our funding for the International Seafarers Center at LA/LB Harbor -- as the maritime industry and waterfront businesses are severely (and negatively) impacted by the "Great Recession". While Capt. Jerry Aspland did help us to draw a fairly good crowd (nearly 300 showed up) for this year's fund-raiser, we nonetheless found that many of our previous participants, sponsors, and advertisers had cut back their donations severely, and some dropped off all together. Hence, in the early days we could raise perhaps $55K (or more) from this event; but this year we'll be lucky if we see half that amount. So we hope you'll fare better with your fundraiser planned for this evening in Oakland. Good luck and Godspeed on that effort! And thanks for sharing the attached items for our review and info!
Meantime, the "voluntary port tariff fees" (which request a $35 fee for each ship arrival at LA/LB Harbor, per port tariffs) have dropped off dramatically as ship owners and vessel operators "opt out" of paying the "voluntary port tariff fees" for supporting the ISC. In these tough economic times, most ship owners/operators view that as "non-essential spending", and they have cut us off completely.
And in our efforts to appeal to their sense of duty and compassion to look after the seafarers who man their ships, we are now being told by many ship owners/operators (including giants like Maersk, APL, Hanjin, NYK, Hyundai, OOCL, MOL, and many others) that those seafarers are "not our employees", and they even state that "the ships are not ours", either (since many are leased from other entities such as banks, shipyards, and other third party affiliates). Never mind that the ships all bear their companies' stack markings, and that they often have their company name painted on the hull in letters ten feet tall!
But such is the harsh atmosphere and negative attitude that exists in the "global economy" today -- and where "the bottom line" governs EVERYTHING in keeping all costs suppressed in a highly competitive (even predatory) business environment. And the seafarers are, unfortunately, at the bottom of their priority list -- if in fact they appear there at all. This is a sad commentary on the state of our maritime industry, to say the least.
In the past we have enjoyed good financial support from the ITF Seafarers Trust Fund in the UK. They have generously given us grants over many years to purchase vans, improve/repair our facility, install computers, buy furniture and appliances, obtain sporting and recreational equipment, make capital purchases, etc. While this has certainly been a blessing to us, it does not help us with our ongoing operating expenses, however (the ITF is restricted to funding only capital expense items, and no operating expense items can be covered through their grants) -- and so we are left on our own for raising those funds each year.
Our ISC annual operating budget ($300K) is very modest for what we do, what we are, and what we represent and provide to the seafarers who depend on the ISC as a "safe haven" to visit while their ships are in port. And I must say that our dedicated staff are truly engaged in a "labor of love" for manning and running the ISC; and for organizing, recruiting, and managing all the volunteers -- and they are NOT compensated fully for all that they do for usand for the visiting seafarers. I'm sad to say that the staff even offered to give up their medical benefits in an effort to help us balance our budget this year. And that's a shame, really. But such are our financial circumstances these days....
We have generated tour operating funds in the past from the collection of the "voluntary port tariff fees"; donations from individuals, port authorities, and companies; the net proceeds from our annual fund-raiser; and from the sale of phone cards and various items from the "slop chest" (store) that we operate at the ISC. While we used to offer all the transportation to-from ships for free, we are now asking each seaman to donate one dollar for each ride they get from us (a taxicab ride would typically cost them $25 or more!). And surprisingly, they are donating MORE than we have asked for, which has greatly helped to offset the cost of fueling and maintaining the fleet of vans that we operate in LA/LB Harbor.
But in these tough economic times -- as stated earlier -- the funding and donations are "drying up" faster than we can find other sources to keep us going. Even with the proceeds from this years' Maritime Industry Salute event, we will barely have the funding to "keep the doors open and the lights on" into January of 2010. What happens thereafter is indeed a grave concern to me and the members of our Board of Directors -- as well as amongst the 100,000 + seafarers that we take care of each year as they pass through our facility...
The ITF funded a study a few yards ago to determine the viability of merging some of the various seamen's service organizations into one unit. The SCI also operates here at LA/LB Harbor, but they are solely concentrated at the Cruise Terminal at POLA, and they seem to be handling that function well (although I understand that they, too, are having some financial difficulties too). But the ISC covers everything else in the two harbors. And some of the other seamen's ministries and services are currently operating out of the ISC facilities anyway. The Norwegian Seamen's Center in San Pedro is barely operating at all, and is mostly now involved with the local Norwegian Lutheran Church activities.
There was a ray of hope recently when members of the Harbor Commission at the Port of Long Beach mentioned the financial plight of the ISC during one of their meetings, and a discussion ensued that indicated their willingness to help funds the ISC to keep it open and operating for the future. We will explore that notion soon in meetings with the Executive Directors from POLA and POLB, and with future appearances before their Harbor Commissioners. We hope those encounters are fruitful. We will keep you posted on those efforts.
But in the interim, whatever you folks at the NLUS-PMMC can do to offer us you help and support will be greatly appreciated (including any funding you can scare up for us!). And thanks again for your outreach to us...
Cap'n Manny Aschemeyer, President, ISC-BoD
International Seafarers Center for LA/LB Harbor
Cap'n Manny & Associates; Int'l Trade & Maritime Consulting Services
30623 Chihuahua Valley Road; Warner Springs, CA 92086-9220 (USA)
Tel: 951-767-3037; FAX: 951-767-3048; Mobile: 310-292-4185
web site (under construction) www.captain-manny.com