GALVESTON

Steve Cernak, who was executive director when the Port of Galveston began its climb to become a major U.S. cruise port, died Monday. He was 63.

Cernak died after a long battle with cancer, according to Port Everglades, where he was CEO and executive director.

Cernak’s tenure at the Port of Galveston from 2002 and 2012 was defined by massive growth in cruise business and efforts to lure container terminals to the public docks.

He was more successful in the former than the latter, and the port has seen years of growth in cruise business. Late last year, the port announced it would build a third cruise terminal, and a soon-to-be-completed master plan will likely call for the addition of even more cruise terminals over the coming decades.

Cernak’s greatest skill was finding money to expand and improve Galveston’s port facilities to accommodate major cruise lines, said Mike Mierzwa, the former port director who succeeded Cernak and worked with him for 12 years.

“Steve was really good at identifying funding or how we were going to get the funds to build, expand and improve these cruise terminals as we worked to try to accommodate these larger ships, which the port enjoys cruising out of here today,” Mierzwa said.

Cruise ships have operated out of Galveston since as far back as 1974. But it wasn’t until 2000 that Carnival Cruise Lines, the largest cruise line in the world, started to operate out of the port.

Under Cernak, Carnival and other companies continually sent new ships to Galveston, helping the port double its revenues by the end of his tenure.

Cernak was a visionary about Galveston’s potential as a cruise port, said Roland Bassett, who was chairman of the Wharves Board of Trustees while Cernak was director. The wharves board governs the port.

“There were many people involved in growing the cruise business, but he was instrumental from the port’s standpoint in growing that business,” Bassett said. “He saw that the port could accommodate a lot more cruise ships than it was doing.”

Cernak was hired to be the director of Port Everglades in 2012. He remained in that job until his death. Despite his illness, he continued to report to work until about two weeks ago, according to the South Florida Sentinel.

Cernak was recognized nationally during his time in Florida. He was a former chairman of the American Association of Port Authorities, and this year received the association’s Cruise Award, which is given to people who make significant contributions to the relationship between cruise ports and the cruise industry.

Before coming to Galveston, Cernak was manager of port development at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Cernak was survived by his wife, children and grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, his family suggested making donations to the Seafarers’ House in Fort Lauderdale or the United Way of Galveston in Cernak’s name.

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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