Family, friends and colleagues of Mike Kennelly, senior vice president-liquids division for American Commercial Barge Line (ACBL), gathered at the Kemah Boardwalk southeast of Houston on January 4 to celebrate the maritime industry veteran and to cheer him on as he christened his namesake towboat, the mv. Michael J. Kennelly.
ACBL CEO Mike Ellis, speaking to the crowd at the christening, described why the act of naming vessels after people is significant.
“When people think about the most valuable assets in this industry, boats and barges most often come to mind, and rightfully so,” Ellis said. “They’re about the only thing in this business you can attach a mortgage to. Although vessels often represent the image of our organization, the true heart and soul of ACBL lies with our remarkable team members, who work 24x7x365, through rapidly changing and adverse river conditions, to keep America’s freight moving. We have one of the most robust river systems in the world, and it’s important that our mariners and our team keep that freight moving.
“That is why it gives us great pleasure to name our boats in honor of exceptional team members who have contributed immensely to our success,” he added.
With that significance in view, Ellis said naming the boat after Kennelly, who’s logged more than 30 years in the maritime industry, made perfect sense.
“Mike Kennelly is truly an industry legend,” Ellis said. “Starting with Kirby Inland Marine right out of Texas A&M’s maritime academy in Galveston, a.k.a. ‘Harvard by the Sea,’ he has dedicated his entire career to our industry, following similar footsteps as his late father and his brother, who both made careers tangent to the marine industry. His passion for this business and for the people are absolutely ingrained in his DNA, as reflected in his pursuit of operational perfection and providing innovative solutions to his customers.”
From the early 1990s to the early 2000s, Kennelly worked in sales at Kirby. From there, he was executive vice president of sales for Florida Marine Transporters (FMT). While Kennelly was at FMT, Ellis was ascending the ranks at Settoon Towing and growing its newly formed bulk liquids business. Ellis said he’d heard good things about Kennelly and soon arranged a meeting in hopes of luring Kennelly to Settoon Towing to help grow this new business.
“We had a great lunch, and at the end of lunch, Kennelly asked, ‘How many boats and barges do you have in the bulk trade?’” Ellis recalled. “I said, ‘We have three boats and seven barges.’ He said, ‘Tell you what, call me again next year.’”
Ellis did just that, but the following year, after informing Kennelly that Settoon had grown its bulk fleet to eight boats and 17 barges, Kennelly’s response was the same: “Call me again next year.”
Exactly one year later and the third time Ellis reached out, Kennelly’s response was different. He said, “You finally have a real business,” and he accepted the position as Settoon’s director of business development in 2010. Other than a brief stint, Ellis and Kennelly have worked together ever since.
Ellis described how Kennelly distinguishes himself with his hard work, commitment, integrity, professionalism and perseverance. Kennelly demonstrates those qualities in all parts of life, not just at work, Ellis said, including as he’s battled cancer of late.
“He has approached cancer like every other challenge I’ve ever seen him face,” Ellis said. “Kennelly said, ‘I want to fight this cancer like cancer has never been fought before.’ Over the past two-plus years, he has done exactly that. I truly believe his love for his family gives him the strength to win every battle this disease has thrown at him, including bragging about how much money he saves on his hair products now.”
Ellis recognized Kennelly’s family, including his children, Andrew, Christian and Olivia; his partner, Nicole; his siblings, Anna and John; and his mother, Claire, who were all present for the christening.
Ellis then closed with a quote from the book of Romans, chapter five.
“‘We rejoice in our sufferings,’” Ellis said. “Why is that? It goes on to say, ‘because suffering brings endurance, endurance brings character, and character brings hope. And hope never disappoints.’ If you know Mike Kennelly, nobody has more character, perseverance and hope than him. I thought that Bible passage was fitting, and I can’t think of a more deserving namesake for this vessel than Michael J. Kennelly.”
Addressing the crowd, Kennelly reflected on his long history in the maritime industry, his family legacy and the connections that have helped give him success.
“As many of you know, I’m a third generation in the maritime industry, and that makes this day even more special,” he said. “I am truly honored. December 27 of last month marked 30 years for me being in the industry. I’ve made incredible relationships with my customers, vendors, team members and even my competitors. Many of you are here today. I’ve worked with some incredible peers along the way, and I thank you. I’ve also worked with some great mentors, and I’m forever grateful.”
Kennelly singled out some of the colleagues and mentors he’s had over the years, particularly those from Kirby, FMT, Settoon, Savage and ACBL. He also recognized his mother, who “always believed in me” and his children.
“As has been mentioned, this is a 24/7 business,” Kennelly said to his children. “You’ve dealt with a lot of late-night phone calls. You’ve dealt with a lot of calls during dinner. And I’ve also worked on a lot of vacations.
“And Nicole, my rock, I’m so thankful you’re in my life,” he said.
Kennelly closed by thanking the entire ACBL team.
The Rev. Nancy Simpson, a chaplain with the Seamen’s Church Institute, offered a prayer of blessing for the mv. Michael J. Kennelly and its crew. Capt. Keith Donahue, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Houston-Galveston, presented the American flag to the crew, and Capt. Michael Johnson, vice president of vessel operations-southern region for ACBL, presented the ACBL flag to the crew.
Surrounded by his family and with friends and colleagues looking on from the Kemah Boardwalk, Kennelly broke a bottle over the rail of the mv. Michael J. Kennelly, officially christening the vessel into the ACBL fleet.
The mv. Michael J. Kennelly, built at Steiner Construction in Bayou La Batre, Ala., and delivered last November, is a Tier 4 retractable-pilothouse towboat, the first such vessel in the United States. The Michael J. Kennelly’s engine package is also a first. The vessel’s two Mitsubishi S12R Tier 4 main engines from Laborde Products mark the debut installation of Tier 4 marine engines by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Engine & Turbocharger. The engine package, which uses selective catalytic reduction (SCR) to meet Tier 4 emissions standards, produces a total of 2,520 hp.
“When we set out to build this new boat, we didn’t just want to build another 2,600 hp. towboat,” said Patrick Sutton, chief operating officer for ACBL. “We wanted to be true to our commitment to our customers to provide innovative marine transportation solutions. And we don’t just say that. We mean it. We think we did that with this vessel.”
Paul Brunsman, senior manager- marine and terminals for LyondellBasell, ACBL’s lease partner for the boat, said he’s thrilled to have the Kennelly working for Lyondell.
“The first conversation I had about this boat was with Mike Ellis and Mike Kennelly, and they described [it as] new, modern, efficient, powerful and safe,” Brunsman said. “I will be extremely proud knowing the quality this vessel is and that she is working for Lyondell.”
Caption for top photo: The mv. Michael J. Kennelly, built by Steiner Construction, is named in honor of ACBL’s senior vice president-liquids division. (Photo by Frank McCormack)