This year, several acts of courage in the maritime industry received the world’s attention. The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) recognized the people behind these headlines at its 32nd Annual Silver Bell Awards Dinner on June 11, 2009. SCI saluted Alberto Alemán Zubieta, Chief Executive Officer of the Panama Canal Authority; NY Waterway, the private ferry system that provides commuter service and tourist excursions in New York Harbor; and Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama who was captured by pirates off the Somali coast in April.
SCI awarded the 2009 Silver Bell Award to Alberto Alemán Zubieta, Chief Executive Officer of the Panama Canal Authority. Under his leadership, the much-used waterway is expanding, allowing for more traffic to move efficiently across the oceans. The project impacts both global shipping and the economic development of Panama itself. The presenter of the Award, Gerhard Kurz, SCI Trustee and member of the Canal’s Advisory Board, noted, “Aleman’s drive and no-nonsense management style have been instrumental in changing the Panama Canal operations into a proactive, customer-oriented modern enterprise.”
The recipients of SCI’s Life-Saving Award worked to meet another kind of challenge. The Institute recognized the men and women operating NY Waterway ferries who rescued passengers from the icy waters of the Hudson River after US Airways Flight 1549 crash-landed in mid-January. United States Coast Guard Vice Commandant Vivien Crea presented the award accepted by NY Waterway CEO Arthur Imperatore who characterized his employees as a “model for dedication.”
The third celebrated newsmaker recognized at the Awards ceremony was Captain Richard Phillips. Douglas Stevenson, Director of SCI’s Center for Seafarers’ Rights, began the award presentation saying, “What for most Americans was, prior to April 12th, the stuff of legend and lore, has been for many of us in this room a dangerous reality.” Phillips confronted five days in a lifeboat at the mercy of pirate captors armed with AK-47s. His acts of courage brought worldwide attention to the scourge of piracy faced by international mariners.
“We glimpsed this evening,” remarked SCI’s Executive Director the Rev. David M. Rider, “the valiant and strong spirit of our industry. Seafarers and maritime leaders make choices that impact our world, and we are very proud to recognize the individuals whose choices made ours better.”
Prior to the Awards Dinner, SCI hosted expert panel members leading a discussion on the economic crisis’ impact on global shipping. The panel included Alberto Alemán Zubieta; director of the Port Commerce Department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Richard M. Larrabee; Morgan Stanley economist Eric S. Pachman; Overseas Shipholding Group, Inc. President and CEO, Morten Arntzen, and USCG Admirals James M. Loy and Charles D. Michel.