Capt. Lansden receives U.S. Merchant Marine Medal for service during Hurricane Katrina

The mariners who worked aboard five Military Sealift Command vessels – the
USNS Algol, USNS Altair, USNS Bellatrix, USNS Pollux and USNS Pililaau – during the relief and recovery efforts on the U.S. Gulf Coast following Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita received the U.S. Merchant Marine Medal June 14, 2006 for
their service.

The medals were presented aboard the USNS Brittin in Violet, La., during a
Military Sealift Command ceremony coordinated by American Overseas Marine
Corp. (AMSEA). Attending the ceremony for MSC were Rear Adm. Hugo Blackwood, vice commander, and John Henry.

“The service rendered by these vessels speaks volumes about the capability and commitment of the merchant mariners working aboard them and the companies, such as
AMSEA, that manage these ships, and about the ability of the MSC fleet to deliver in the times of our nation’s greatest need,” said Capt. Bob Groom, Master of the Brittin, who was
emcee at the ceremony.

The Pollux was undergoing engine repairs Aug. 28 when Hurricane Katrina hit. The ship weathered the storm with the rest of New Orleans. MSC gave Captain Robert Lansden,
Master of the Pollux, authorization to make the ship’s resources available to the local relief effort. The Pollux became the source of fuel for the generators of area hospitals, pumping stations, water treatment plants, firefighting and military camps. With assistance from West Jefferson Medical Center, an emergency dialysis unit was set up in the ship’s laundry room. The ship’s engineers also helped the Audubon Zoo with potable water and assisted the aquarium and the local morgue with pumping, refrigeration, and mechanical systems. With its own air-conditioning, running water, and working toilets, the Pollux was a haven in 100-degree heat for emergency workers and families.

“When all command and control was gone, we had to do what was right,” Capt. Lansden said. That theme prevailed in his remarks during the ceremony, and Capt. Lansden singled out several of his officers and crewmembers for their selfless dedication to helping those in need in the aftermath of the storm and flooding. In all, the Pollux fed 14,000 people and pumped 1.7 million gallons of fuel over 56 days, Capt. Lansden said. “The buses that evacuated this city ran on Military Sealift Command fuel and I’ve got to thank you for letting us give it away.”

As soon as the river was reopened after Katrina, Capt. Paul Breslin, Master of the Altair, brought the ship in to refuel the Pollux so that pumping operations could be sustained. The
Algol and Bellatrix provided housing and transport for emergency services workers on the Gulf Coast and, on their own time, the crew of the Bellatrix saved and cared for orphaned pets in the New Orleans area. The Pililaau provided housing, transportation and support for marines and paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne, who served in Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi as part of Task Force Katrina, assisting disaster response agencies and victims of the hurricanes.

Referring to the credo of the U.S. Merchant Marine, “In Peace And War,” Capt. Lansden said that, in war, merchant mariners will risk their lives to deliver the cargo because they know the people on the other end depend upon it. In peace, he said, these ships are a tremendous vehicle for helping people in a natural disaster. During the hurricane relief efforts, all five ships were operated by AMSEA and manned in all licensed positions by American Maritime Officers and in all unlicensed positions by the Seafarers International Union.

SOURCE: American Maritime Officer – July 2006 (Front Page)