SIU Testifies for U.S.-Flag Fleet (5/24)

 

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For a news release from Rep. Garamendi, click HERE

 

For a replay of the entire hearing via webcast, click HERE


The SIU was among the organizations testifying at a Congressional hearing May 21 on the important role U.S.-flag shipping and American mariners play in the country’s economic and national security.

 

The hearing, conducted by the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, focused on key programs including the Jones Act, Maritime Security Program (MSP), and cargo preference, including Food for Peace (PL-480). In his testimony to the committee, SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez said the hard work of merchant mariners is at the heart of every one of those programs, adding that it is vital those mariners have the opportunity to continue serving their country in times of need.

 

“We’ve been a critical component of our country’s economic and national security from the founding days of the Republic.… We are always there when the balloon goes up and we hope to be there whenever the balloon goes up,” he said. “In order to do that we need to have the strong foundation of a vibrant commercial fleet. In order to maintain that, it must be a public-private partnership.”

 

That was the opinion of the subcommittee, as well. Nearly every member – both Democrat and Republican – reinforced the idea that those key maritime programs are essential to the nation and vowed to fight any efforts to dismantle or defund them.

 

“Beyond the important contributions to our economy, a healthy maritime industry is vital to our national security,” said Chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) “Throughout our history, the Navy has relied on U.S.-flag commercial vessels crewed by American Merchant Mariners to carry troops, weapons, and supplies to the battlefield.”

 

While they’re vital to the country’s interest, essential maritime programs like MSP, Food for Peace and the Jones Act have faced obstacles in Washington in recent months and years. Several members of the subcommittee, including Chairman Hunter and Ranking Member John Garamendi (D-Calif.), said they wanted the hearing to help Congress determine what it could do to help these programs.

 

Addressing the witnesses, Garamendi said the programs currently on the books do much to ensure the country maintains a strong merchant marine, though he added those programs need to be protected and supported by the government.

 

“We really have all the elements of a strategic plan, they’re just not pulled together in a way that directs the U.S. government,” he said. “What else do we need to do?”

 

Tellez responded that Congress could do a lot by simply strengthening and enforcing the programs that are currently in place and fending off future attacks.

 

It would be helpful if Congress “really put some teeth into the laws that exist,” he said, adding that a longer-term approach and the support of emerging shipping technologies would have a significant impact. “Instead of looking at fiscal-year terms or even five-year terms, for the security of this nation and the security of the U.S. Merchant Marine, you have to look at 10- and 20-year terms.”

 

Though each program represents a different component of a multi-faceted industry, they all serve to strengthen America’s national security by helping maintain a fleet of American vessels crewed by reliable American mariners. That was echoed by those testifying in the hearing, including Gen. William M. Fraser, commander of the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM).

 

“The maintenance of a merchant marine is critical to our ability to meet the requirements we’ve laid out. They would man those ships for us in a time of emergency response,” Fraser said. “Our total force team of men and women, both military and civilian, are dedicated to providing reliable, seamless, logistical support to our war fighters and their families around the globe. USTRANSCOM could not accomplish this without the capability provided by the United States strategic sealift fleet and our steadfast merchant mariners.”

 

Those on the commercial shipping side of maritime were equality emphatic about the importance of a strong merchant marine. Kirby Corporation CEO Joseph Pyne and NASSCO President Fred Harris said a viable fleet and manpower pool, and the knowledge that key maritime programs would stay in place, would help keep the country safe and Americans at work. MEBA President Mike Jewell also testified and echoed those sentiments.

 

Spurred by the recent revelation by the Obama administration that its proposed 2014 budget would drastically diminish the country’s Food for Peace program, several committee members made it known that policy wouldn’t move forward without a fight. Providing more than 44,000 jobs to American mariners and other U.S. workers while also spreading American goodwill and saving lives around the world, the Food for Peace program has provided food to countries in need for nearly 60 years. It also boosts U.S. national security by ensuring American-flag ships are available with well-trained mariners on board.

 

“The president’s restructuring of Food for Peace will eliminate a vital program for our farmers, put U.S. mariners out of work, and undermine our national security by cutting the domestic sealift capacity on which our military depends,” Hunter said. “I hope my colleagues will join me in rejecting this misguided proposal.”

 

They did. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), for one, said the maritime industry’s recent “Sail-In” event – which focused on educating members of Congress on maritime issues – would help fend off the attacks on Food for Peace and other programs.

 

“We completely disagree with the administration’s attempt to restructure the Food for Peace Program,” she said. “I have serious concerns with what this could mean for our maritime workers.”

 

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