Philly shipyard celebrates safety with keel-laying ceremony
Local 19, Aker Philadelphia Shipyard form OSHA partnership to improve health and safety
LOCAL 19 (PHILADELPHIA) played a prominent role in a traditional keel-laying ceremony held Dec. 9, 2008, at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard to celebrate the building of a new tanker and a new partnership to improve the health and safety of its workers. The ceremony was held just a few weeks after an official agreement was signed to enter the Philly shipyard and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) into a partnership to work together on common safety goals. The program could make the yard eligible to apply for OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) in as early as two years.
During the keel-laying ceremony for a product tanker — the eighth in a series of 12 tankers being built for the American Shipping Co. (AMSC), coins were placed under the keel block before it was lowered into the dry dock as a long held symbol of good fortune and safe travels. Two Aker Philadelphia Shipyard employees who have made great safety improvements in the yard were invited to participate.
Fred Chamberlain, a shipbuilder and secretary-treasurer of Boilermaker Local 19, and maintenance supervisor William Bowman, placed coins to represent the shipyard. Panos Hatzikyriakos, head of the safety, quality, and environment (SQE) program at OSG, placed a coin on behalf of OSG America, the company that will be chartering the tanker from AMSC when it is completed.
Laying of the keel
L-19 Sec.-Treas. Fred Chamberlain places a coin for good luck under the keel block of a tanker being built at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard.[+]Enlarge
THE FIRST MILESTONE in the history of a ship is a simple ceremony that marks the laying of the keel — a large beam around which the hull of a ship is built. The invitation is issued by shipyard officials, and the ceremony conducted by them.
The ship’s construction is dated from this event, with only the ship’s launching being considered more significant in its creation.
The ceremony may include authenticating the keel-laying by placing a plaque or inscription of the authenticator’s initials on the keel. Workmen then move the keel into position on the shipway, proclaiming, “The keel has been truly and fairly laid.” Oftentimes coins are placed for good luck under the keel block before it is lowered into the dry dock.
The keel runs in the middle of the ship and serves as the foundation or spine of the structure, providing the major source of structural strength of the hull. The term lay the keel has entered the language as a phrase meaning the beginning of any significant undertaking.
Wooden ships are relatively small, and the keel is often one large piece of wood, sometimes placed by the men who made it. In older steel ships, the keel was often made from riveted pieces of metal, and the riveting of the first piece might correspond to the laying of the keel. World War II saw the introduction of welded ships, so a contemporary keel might be a massive welded assembly that is lowered into place by a giant crane.
Chamberlain, a Local 19 member since 2000, sits on a union-management suggestion improvement committee. He says the committee enables union leaders to push the ideas of their members. “The company provides monetary awards when these suggestions improve productivity” Chamberlain said. “And our member take pride in knowing their suggestions are helping other members.”
Chamberlain also chairs the union-management joint safety committee, which includes three members each from the union and the company, and is enthusiastic about the OSHA partnership being formed at the yard.
He works with the Philly Metal Trades Council to improve safety at the shipyard for all workers, regardless of union affiliation. “We stand behind the old union saying, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’ We do everything possible to avoid even one injury.”
Local 19 was chartered as a shipyard and marine lodge in 1914, and it has represented workers at the Philly shipyard (through an agreement with the Metal Trades Council) since 2006, when it consolidated with Local 2000. Local 2000 (Chester, Pa.) had represented workers at the shipyard since the yard opened its doors in 2000.
“We at the Philly shipyard are trying everything we can to bring back American shipbuilding — one tanker at a time,” Chamberlain said. “The self pride of our members makes our job so easy it’s a delight to serve as an officer of this great union and local lodge.”
The Aker Philadelphia Shipyard is a leader in U.S. shipbuilding, constructing commercial vessels for operation in the Jones Act market. The act requires that ships carrying goods or passengers from one U.S. port to another U.S. port be built in the United States.
The yard currently has three other product tankers under construction for AMSC, which owns and leases vessels for operation between ports in the United States. When the current series of 12 tankers is completed in 2011, AMSC will own the most modern product tanker fleet in the United States, and it will be the first company in the United States to own shuttle tankers for use in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
Source: The Citizendium (The Citizens’ Compendium) and Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia.