After 16.5 years with the Port of Galveston, Mike Mierzwa, port director, told Cruise Industry News that he was retiring as of Dec. 31, 2016.
Turning 69 on Jan. 3 (2017), he said: “It was a difficult decision. I enjoy what I do; as port director I am responsible for the whole port, although my first love is cruise.
“I joined the port in 2000 as cruise terminal manager. Together with a great team, we have been able to grow the business. We have found innovative ways to accommodate passengers and move ships in and out.
“(Herbert) Bubba Smith is director of cruise operations. Back in 2000 it was only me, now there is Bubba and five more people, and we are looking at hiring a sixth person.”
Coming aboard on July 3, 2000, Mierzwa had three months to get ready for his first cruise ship call by what he described as Carnival’s oldest and smallest ship.
“I needed to get 1,500 passengers off and 1,500 on between 8 am and 4 pm and it seemed impossible. At the time we were less capable of moving that many people. And Carnival was used to moving people in buses. Here everybody had their own car so that was new for them. I recall these air/sea ladies from Carnival telling me this is not going to work. But it did, it all worked out. It was my first turnaround and I was amazed.
“If you fast-forward, we do three times that many people, and the ships come in later in the morning. Now they know that since we have such a smooth operation, they can come in later and still leave at 4.”
Mierzwa said he has nothing but pleasant memories, but obviously there were some hiccups along the way like with Hurricane Ike in 2008. The terminals had four feet of water on the floor but were up and running in six weeks.
“We are a small port and do not get any taxpayer support,” he continued. “We are able to go out and borrow the money we need and use it wisely. Our terminals are not fancy like you see in some other ports, but they are functional,” he emphasized.
“I tell my guys now: going forward you always have to be making improvements. So you can accommodate the newest and largest ships that are out there. When I get done with these improvements, we can handle an Oasis-class ship. Bring it on!”
Mierzwa is also a 29-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard, even having served a stint as a math professor. He retired with the rank of captain in 1998. His last assignment in the Coast Guard was as chief of staff for the Fourteenth Coast Guard District in Honolulu. He was also chief of operations for the Coast Guard in Alaska and commanding officer of two Coast Guard cutters.