Strong Start for U.S. Maritime

Seafarers Log, February 2011

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Michael Sacco, PresidentThe New Year has kicked off with important, positive news about three crucial elements of the American-flag maritime industry.


Early last month, President Obama signed the Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for 2011. That bill included a 10-year extension of the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP) – a proven, vital measure that benefits the nation as a whole while also helping keep numerous Seafarers working.


The extended MSP goes until 2025, and while its funding must be secured annually through Congress, those dollars have come every year since the program’s inception in 1996.


The bottom line is that the extension is a great development for the SIU and for our industry overall. It will help keep the Stars and Stripes flying aboard civilian-crewed, privately owned ships on the high seas, and it will continue helping protect our national and economic security.


The overall bill bears the name of former Congressman Skelton, a decades-long backer of the U.S. Merchant Marine and a true friend of the SIU. He was the one who sponsored the MSP extension, and on behalf of our entire union, I thank him not only for that effort but for his career-long support and friendship.


Within days of the bill’s signing – and as reported elsewhere on this page – the non-partisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling officially confirmed that the Jones Act was a non-issue in the cleanup operations following the Deepwater Horizon disaster last year.


If you’re brand new to our union or our industry and you missed the story, the short version is that one of America’s most important maritime laws – the Jones Act – was falsely and unfairly blamed by some for allegedly holding up the Deepwater Horizon oil collection and disposal. Those charges were completely inaccurate, and in some cases undoubtedly were based more on partisan politics than reality, but they still made national news within our industry. In one case they even led to the introduction of legislation in the Senate calling for Jones Act repeal. The bill went nowhere, but the perceptions of some casual observers weren’t helped by all the baloney.


Thankfully, the commission’s report firmly and concisely reinforces what the SIU and other Jones Act supporters said all along. Namely, that the law didn’t come into play after the spill, other than in cases where waivers were granted to facilitate the cleanup. In no case was foreign aid refused because of the Jones Act, the commission specifically reported.


The news isn’t surprising but it’s nice to have it on record. And it’s nice to shut up the loudmouths who lied about American maritime labor.


Finally, the American-flag coalition USA Maritime recently issued a report detailing the numerous benefits of our nation’s cargo preference laws. The SIU is a member of that coalition. Like the Jones Act fight, cargo preference recently came under attack by foreign-flag interests, though in a much less visible way.


There are three main components to the nation’s cargo preference laws, including one that dates back more than a century. Collectively, these laws make sure American goods are delivered overseas by Americans. They have played a key role in helping ensure that America has a strong domestic shipbuilding base and merchant marine. Cargo preference laws help create good-paying jobs for American workers, provide tax revenues at the local, state and federal levels, and make sure the U.S. Merchant Marine is ready and available when needed for strategic sealift and other defense interests.


The USA Maritime study clearly shows how cargo preference is a huge plus for the Defense Department and a solid value to the American taxpayer.


As Seafarers know, the MSP, the Jones Act and cargo preference are the very foundations of the U.S. Merchant Marine. With that in mind, I’d say these recent developments set an excellent tone for the rest of 2011.

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