National Maritime Day at Albany's port also includes boat rides, demonstrations

Section: Capital Region,  Page: D1

Date: Friday, June 17, 2011

ALBANY -- Even among society's marginalized, crew members on cargo ships that crisscross the world's oceans are an invisible, neglected caste far from home.

"It's a life of isolation and they're aliens almost everywhere they go," said the Rev. Bill Hempel, director of the Albany Maritime Ministry and the Seafarers Center at the Port of Albany.

On Sunday, the merchant marine, unsung heroes who form the backbone of the shipping industry, will be highlighted during a ceremony to commemorate National Maritime Day. The event will include free boat rides on the Hudson River aboard the Dutch Apple, free trolley tours of the Port of Albany and nautical demonstrations followed by a free Father's Day concert by the Coast Guard Dixieland Band and a fireworks display.

"We hope these events get people to realize that there is a lot going on once you go past the U-Haul building and the truck stop at the Port," said Hempel, pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church who has directed the maritime ministry since 1995.

A commemoration aboard the USS Slater will honor Richard and Maralyn Walker, a Berne couple who have been active volunteers at the maritime ministry for the past 12 years.

"They do anything that's needed and it's almost never the same thing twice," Hempel said. The Walkers -- he's retired from the Coast Guard -- board ships to assist crew members, buy them phone cards, drive them in a van to shopping malls, take them for medical treatment and visit them in the hospital if they are diagnosed with a serious illness.

The Walkers welcome visiting sailors to the Seafarers Center, a building in the Port of Albany that offers an Internet connection, phone service and fellowship. The center works with about 3,000 sailors who crew on more than 100 ships that load or unload cargo at the Port of Albany each year. The port has been a work zone for the past three years, with an $11.7 million upgrade of the wharves including new concrete decks, a new rail line and other improvements. Construction is scheduled to be completed in September.

Tightened security in the wake of 9/11 and shorter turnaround times in port driven by competitive financial pressures in the shipping industry makes the volunteer work of the Walkers more challenging because sailors aren't often allowed off their ships. Most crew members speak some English and they hail from the Philippines, Myanmar, across Eastern Europe, Asia, China, India and elsewhere.

The first National Maritime Day was held on May 22, 1933 after it was established by a resolution presented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The date was chosen to coincide with when the first U.S. ship under steam propulsion, the Savannah, completed a trans-Atlantic voyage on May 22, 1819.

The Albany event was set for Sunday instead of May 22 to coordinate with of the city-sponsored free Father's Day concert by the Coast Guard Dixieland Band, fireworks and vendors selling food in Riverfront Park and the Corning Preserve.

The National Maritime Day events will be held at the dock site of the Slater and the Dutch Apple, recently re-named with a more upscale handle by city officials: Steamboat Square. The site adjacent to the U-Haul building was for years known as the Snow Dock. It's where city trucks dumped loads of snow into the wintry Hudson River after snow removal from municipal streets.

Reach Paul Grondahl at 454-5623 or

Sunday's port events

What: National Maritime Day events including free boat rides aboard the Dutch Apple and free trolley tours of the Port of Albany.

When: 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday

Where: Steamboat Square, where the Slater and Dutch Apple are docked, 131 Broadway along the Hudson River adjacent to the U-Haul building, Albany.

Also: A free Father's Day concert by the Coast Guard Dixieland Band begins at 7 p.m., followed by fireworks at Riverfront Park in the Corning Preserve upriver of Steamboat Square.