Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby tours Port of Beaumont

Newly appointed MARAD Administrator Rear Adm. Mark Buzby visited the Port of Beaumont Friday, Jan. 19, to familiarize himself with the busiest port in the United States for both import and export of military cargo.

He began his morning by visiting Beaumont’s Reserve Fleet, one of three and the only anchorage of the Maritime Administration’s National Defense Reserve Fleet on the Gulf Coast. In addition to the Ready Reserve Force (RRF), the NDRF consists of a variety of obsolete commercial vessels awaiting disposal, and according to MARAD’s website, currently hosts non-retention, retention, and reimbursable custody vessels. Non-retention vessels are those that MARAD has deemed to no longer be militarily useful. Retention vessels are maintained for logistics support, training use, or long-term activation. Reimbursable custody vessels are non-NDRF government vessels (such as those owned by the U.S. Army, Navy, Coast Guard, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) that are stored at each fleet site in exchange for a maintenance fee.

“He went there to have an all-hands meeting and talk to everybody,” said Brian Hill, Western Gulf Gateway director for the U.S. Maritime Administration.

Buzby arrived at the Port of Beaumont around 1 p.m. and was given a general briefing about the layout of the port and where MARAD vessels were currently docked.

He said the main purpose of his visit was to gain familiarization with the BRF and the Port of Beaumont.

“I’m down here to check on some of my Ready Reserve Force ships, which three are here in the port itself, and also just to get a better understanding of how the Port of Beaumont plays into our national security,” Buzby told the Business Journal.

Port of Beaumont Director Chris Fisher shared details of some of the $169.2 million in capital improvement projects the port has planned, and emphasized how upgrading docks 2, 3, 4 – an $80 million project – is important. The docks will be designed for roll-on/roll-off, which is important for military cargo, and will be able to handle some of the bigger ships that are over 1,000 feet long, even larger than some of the vessels operated by MARAD that are currently docked at the port such as the Cape Texas, which is 634 feet in length.

Fisher, Buzby and Director of Trade Development at Port of Beaumont Ernest Bezdek also discussed the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the port.

“We had significant bank erosion. … We had about 14 feet of sediment in our channel, so we were draft restricted to 26 feet for a while. … We had a big military operation going on at the time (support for Operation Atlantic Resolve); including your three (MARAD) ships, we had eight ships in port,” Fisher said. “Generally, when hurricanes come in, we tell the ships to get out of here, but this was a different deal. It hit down in Corpus Christi and kept making its way up here. So it was a rain storm when it got here.”

Fisher said Liberty Global Logistics’ ship the Liberty Peace was hit hard by the current on the Neches.

“We had three tug (boats) trying to hold it in place,” Fisher said. “It was kind of a scary deal.”

Fisher said it was about a month before the port returned to full operation after Harvey.

“It was a pretty significant storm for us,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much rain in my life.”

Jim Heldreth, chief of operations for the 842nd Transportation Battalion, which is headquartered at the Port of Beaumont, also briefed Rear Adm. Buzby on recent military cargo movement.

After a tour of the port, Buzby said, “It was my first visit to Beaumont, and it strikes me as being a very productive, cargo-friendly place. You’ve found a good niche and you’re exploiting it, and it’s exciting to see people who are energized and are making it all happen.”

Fisher said, “We were very pleased to have Administrator Buzby visit the Port of Beaumont and are always eager to welcome our partners in Washington D.C. to Southeast Texas. We take great pride in our port and hope Administrator Buzby left with a greater understanding of the strategic importance of the Port of Beaumont and the impact our region has on the national economy.

“Administrator Buzby has a vast knowledge of the maritime industry, and we are looking forward to working with him on future MARAD related projects and initiatives.”

About Rear Adm. Mark Buzby

Buzby was appointed by President Donald Trump and sworn in as maritime administrator on Aug. 8, 2017. Prior to his appointment, Buzby served as president of the National Defense Transportation Association, a position he has held since retiring from the U.S. Navy in 2013 with over 34 years of service.

A 1979 graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Buzby earned his Bachelor of Science in Nautical Science and U.S. Coast Guard Third Mate License. He was commissioned in the U.S. Navy in June 1979, is a graduate of the Joint Forces Staff College and holds master’s degrees from the U.S. Naval War College and Salve Regina University in Strategic Studies and International Relations, respectively.

Buzby commanded destroyer USS Carney, Destroyer Squadron Thirty-One, Surface Warfare Officers School Command, and Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay. As a junior officer, Buzby served in USS Connole, USS Aries, USS Yorktown, USS John Paul Jones and USS Shiloh, primarily in operations and combat systems billets. In 1985, he was the Atlantic Fleet Junior Officer Shiphandler of the Year.

Ashore, he served on staffs of Sixth Fleet, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, the Navy staff, and the Joint Staff. Buzby served as the commander of the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command from October 2009 to March 2013.

Buzby’s personal awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (four awards), Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (five awards) and various other unit and campaign awards.

Photo by Kevin King - Rear Adm. Mark Buzby and Port of Beaumont Director Chris Fisher