Maritime Security Program Gets 10-Year Extension

Seafarers Log, February 2011

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The U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP), one of the pillars of the American-flag fleet and a vital component of the nation’s sealift capability, has been extended through the year 2025.


President Obama on Jan. 7 signed the 10-year MSP extension, which was included in the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for this year. Skelton, former U.S. congressman from Missouri and a decades-long backer of the U.S. Merchant Marine, sponsored the extension.


The MSP calls for an annual stipend for up to 60 militarily useful, civilian-crewed, U.S.-flag commercial vessels. In return, the companies participating in the program promise that their intermodal capabilities (in addition to the vessels) are available to the military in times of national emergency or war.


First enacted in 1996, the MSP always has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in addition to garnering praise from America’s military leaders. President George H.W. Bush presented the idea of the program to Congress in 1992. Four years later, President Clinton signed into law the original 10-year, 47-ship program.


Before those 10 years elapsed, President George W. Bush in late 2003 signed a 10-year MSP extension which also increased the number of vessels to 60. That extension would have run out in 2015.


Consistent with the program’s history, the more recent extension requires Congress to authorize MSP funding each year.


In testimony prepared for a 2010 hearing scheduled by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, the SIU advocated an MSP extension. The union noted, “It would cost literally billions of dollars to replicate or replace the tonnage and infrastructure currently available to our military through the MSP for a fraction of that amount of money. The cost of replicating the manpower pool is incalculable. Put it all together and you’ve got a program that’s been described over and over by our nation’s military leaders as a bargain.


“They aren’t the only ones measuring MSP’s success,” the testimony continued. “The Office of Management and Budget has given the Maritime Security Program the highest possible marks in the four categories it gauges. Additionally, this program is an important part of [the industry’s] working partnership with DOD. Because of the MSP and other sealift-readiness programs, such as the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA), our partnership with DOD is strengthened by allowing us the opportunity to be fully apprised of our military’s requirements. As a result, we as an industry can prepare, plan and make the appropriate changes and investments to fully meet DOD’s needs.”


The SIU added that the MSP “has successfully met one of its critical, intended goals, which was to recapitalize an aging fleet. There is no doubt about that success when one looks at our current international fleet, the vast majority of which has been replaced with newer tonnage.”

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