The Maritime Administration kicked off a three-day “National Maritime Strategy Symposium” in Washington on Tuesday with calls to expand the U.S. flag fleet serving international trade.
Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx told those attending the symposium that the country needs a policy that “keeps America’s sealift capability, protects our long term economic interests, and maintains the strategic asset of the U.S. Merchant Marine.
“This is an area where if we make the right choices and put the right vision on paper, we are going to improve the climate for manufacturing in exporting overseas and lift the economy."
The Acting Maritime Administrator Paul ‘Chip’ Jaenichen outlined the decline of the U.S. Merchant Marine, from 1,242 ships in 1951 to 179 today, and from 13.6 million gross tons in 1988 to 6.9 million tons today. The number of dry cargo vessels, 128, is lower today than at any time since the end of World War II. There are 51 tankers — most engaged in moving coastal cargo. The share of waterborne foreign trade carried by U.S.-flag, privately owned ships fell from 65 percent at the end of the war to 10 percent in 1960, and it kept declining to 2 percent by 2003, when the government stopped tracking the statistic.
Jaenichen noted that the Merchant Marine Act calls for a “merchant marine sufficient to carry its domestic waterborne commerce and a substantial portion of the waterborne export and import foreign commerce of the United States, and to provide shipping service on all routes essential for maintaining the flow of such domestic and foreign waterborne commerce at all times.”
He then asked the men and women attending the symposium, “Does a 179-vessel fleet accomplish those goals for a nation with 316 million people? I don’t think so.”
Rep. John Garamendi stressed the need for a “coherent national maritime policy” and for the industry to speak with a unified voice. But then he raised a controversial issue, asking whether preference should continue to be given to so-called “section two” citizens that are American-owned and controlled. when awarding management contracts for ships in the ready reserve force.
Garamendi's call for support of the Jones Act, which he called “foundational” to the merchant marine, was heartily applauded, and he called for recognition that the merchant marine has always been a public-private partnership.
He said he has questions about export of oil and liquefied natural gas from the U.S. because they give the nation a “foundation for economic growth that no other nation in the world currently posses. We should not squander it.”
But if domestic oil and gas is exported, he said it should move in U.S. flag ships built in the U.S.