WASHINGTON, May 12, 2015 – Former Army Corps of Engineers deckhand Emmanuel Belamy told CDN that he was terminated because he reported on illegal alcohol consumption and racism on his ship, the motor vessel Mississippi.
Belamy began working on the Mississippi in December 2013 as a seasonal employee. At that time, Belamy, aged 38, was an Iraq war veteran with nearly two decades of Army service.
The M/V Mississippi’s core job is to move barges, equipment and supplies to support mat sinking operations; however, it also serves the Mississippi River Commission as an inspection boat.
Further, the M/V Mississippi is used for meetings in the boat’s hearing room, which seats 115 persons.
The boat’s dining room has a capacity of 85 people. The boat has 22 staterooms and can handle 150 passengers.
Joree Brownlow, a civil rights attorney retained by Belamy, says the vessel is a “‘giant floating ambassador’ used to transport politicians and other important individuals and show them a good time on the Mississippi, earning the name Mississippi River Cruises (MRC).”
Belamy reported that he began seeing bottles of beer and wine stored in the refrigerator of the vessel and said he could smell alcohol on the breath of superiors on the Mississippi.
“I have also witnessed crew members of the Motor Vessel Mississippi consume alcohol while on duty. Breath smells like alcohol, rooms contained open beer bottles,” Belamy stated in a a complaint he filed with his union, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE).
Belamy also accused the ship’s white officers of engaging in racist and demeaning behavior:
“They also had all black employees wearing white gloves and serving all white passengers during the Mississippi River Commission trip which began on 3 April 2014. Treating the black employees as if they were slaves and there to serve their white masters.”
Brownlow told CDN the Motor Vessel Mississippi has a long history of racism issues. She said she was involved in a settlement a few years ago with the Army Corp of Engineers after a mannequin was hanged in effigy on the same ship.
“Motor Vessel Mississippi has been riddled with all kinds of racial issues- throw back to the deep-south where they take white gloves.” Brownlow said from her Memphis office. “The Corps mistreats their deck hands something fierce.”
On April 3, 2014, Belamy forwarded photos of the alcohol he found on the Mississippi to Thomas Doyle, a case officer with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).
Doyle told CDN he was in a new position at the USCG and declined further comment, stating, “As this incident is no longer an open case I am unable to comment on the incident.”
Belamy said the information was then forwarded to the Coast Guard regional office in Memphis, where the investigation died, according to his complaint.
There was no response to an email sent to the regional office of the USCG asking for information on the case.
A few days after Belamy sent the photos, Belamy says that the ship’s Capt. Leo Hendrix held a meeting to discuss the allegations of alcohol on the ship. Hendrex reportedly stated, “This is a letter from Washington D.C. and it allowed alcohol to be consumed on the Motor Vessel Mississippi during the entire MRC trip and was permitted by direction of Memphis District Commander Colonel Jeffrey Anderson.”
Hendrix, however, refused to show Belamy the purported letter. It was also never posted or made available to the crew.
On April 14, 2014, Belamy said he received a letter saying he would be temporarily put on non-paid status due to the seasonal nature of his job. His union later received an email saying seasonal employees would return to work on June 10, 2014.
Belamy informed the Army Corps of Engineers that he would be reporting for military reserve duty during the period he was laid off. He left for military duty to train at an Army base in Louisiana starting May 1, 2014.
On May 5, 2014, the Army Corp of Engineers sent him his termination notice to his home.
Belamy said he was terminated from the Mississippi because he refused to carry luggage for the wife of a senior officer. Belamy said he refused not only because carrying luggage was outside his scope as a maintenance officer, but also because the request was rudely made.
Throughout Belamy’s prior Army service, he was never cited for any incident. He believes his termination was in retaliation for his blowing the whistle on alcohol consumption on board the Mississippi.
His union was not told of the termination, Belamy said, and he did not find out about until he came back from his deployment in June 2014. By that time, his window to file an appeal had passed.
Belamy said he believes the Army Corps of Engineers deliberately misled him and his union about his termination.
“I found that kind of strange that he was terminated while he was on military duty.” Melvin Tate, president of IFPTE local 259 and Belamy’s union representative, said. “I believe strongly that he was railroaded by the process.”
In 1997, the Army Corps of Engineers paid a settlement of $1 million to a group of African-American deckhands on another ship who also accused the agency of discrimination and racism in a landmark case referred to as the Hurley Settlement.
One complainant in that settlement, Randy C. Galloway, told the New York Times shortly after the settlement was reached that conditions on that boat were like ”modern-day slavery.” Another, Chancey Wilson, said white officers ”wanted you just to be a houseboy.”
An email to the Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs Office received no response.
After spending a decade in finance, Michael Volpe has been a freelance investigative journalist since 2009. His work has been published locally in the Chicago Reader, Chicago Crusader, Chicago Heights Patch, and New City. Nationally, Volpe‘s work has appeared in a wide variety of publications including the Washington Examiner, the Daily Caller, Capital Research Center, Communities Digital News, Crime Magazine, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Newsletter, and Counter Punch. Volpe has been recognized by leading whistleblowers as leading the charge in getting their stories out. Volpe‘s first book Prosecutors Gone Wild was released in 2012 and his second book The Definitive Dossier of PTSD in Whistleblowers was released in 2013. His third book tentatively titled Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney’s Family Court Nightmare is scheduled for a summer 2015 release.