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National Maritime Day puts focus on port of Baltimore

Nicole Johnson and her two children, Julianna and James, ventured to Baltimore's Pier 12 to learn about the city's robust maritime community, an industry that supports more than 100,000 families throughout the state.

During National Maritime Day in Baltimore, the public got to board an "army boat," see model ships made of Legos and learn about an array of careers tied to the port of Baltimore.

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"I wanted them to see something unique," said Johnson, a Parkville resident.

Julianna, 10, agreed.

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"It was awesome," she said.

"It was good," James, 8, piped in.

The Johnsons were exactly what Sunday was about, according to David Stambaugh, general manager of the Baltimore Maritime Exchange and secretary treasurer for the Baltimore Port Alliance.

"This is an opportunity for the general public to learn about the port of Baltimore," he said. "Most people don't know much."

What started seven years ago as a way of honoring merchant managers has evolved into an all-day event that helps to educated the public about the port industry, Stambaugh explained.

"Most associate the port with the Inner Harbor," he said. "But the real action extends from the Domino Sugar plant outward."

The day kicked off with about 100 people gathered on the veranda of the NS Savannah, the world's first nuclear-powered cargo and passenger ship, for a commemoration ceremony.

Former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley spoke to the crowd about the importance of the port to Baltimore and Maryland.

"The port of Baltimore is the most important economic engine that we have ever had and will continue to have," she said.

"Without it, this area does not have the kind of economic strength it has," said Bentley, adding that 129,000 families in Maryland have income tied to the port.

In addition to Bentley, the event attracted politicians currently in office, including Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, who spoke to the crowd about the role the merchant Marine plays in the fight against terrorism.

Johnson and her family said the day was both entertaining and educational.

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Attendees were able to board the NS Savannah, a massive 600-foot ship that is closed to the public every day of the year except during National Maritime Day. The ship, which was built in the 1950s, came to Baltimore in 2008 after it was decommissioned.

The "army boat" made quite an impression on Julianna.

"It's really high up," she said. "When you're walking in, you shouldn't look down."

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