Congressman Hunter, Navy League Speak Out for Maritime


June 2013


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Support for the U.S. Merchant Marine is swelling in Washington, D.C., as lawmakers and other leaders are reminded of how important the American fleet is to the country’s national and economic security.


In letters to Congressional leaders and editorials in Washington newspapers, powerful supporters of the U.S. Merchant Marine are rejecting proposed cuts and changes to key maritime programs and legislation. From protecting the country’s Food for Peace initiative and the Jones Act, to fighting against proposed cuts to the Maritime Security Program (MSP), the maritime industry’s prominent allies are working to make sure the U.S.-flag fleet continues to receive the support it deserves.


One of the most vocal allies was House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). In an editorial appearing in the Washington Times, Hunter emphasized the need to support the MSP and the Jones Act.


The Jones Act helps ensure there’s an available U.S. merchant fleet and reliable U.S. mariners by stipulating that only vessels built, flagged, owned and crewed American transport goods between American ports. The MSP, meanwhile, provides operational support to 60 militarily useful ships that enable them to meet the country’s national security needs.


Not supporting these programs, Hunter wrote, would be detrimental to the country especially as tensions remain high between the United States and North Korea in the Pacific.


“The fewer number of commercial vessels that are available to supplement military transport add to the strain of an already reduced and undersized naval fleet. With emerging threats to the Pacific, the support provided through the Maritime Security Program is essential,” he wrote. “In continuing the program, Congress must look ahead and consider policies that support the growth of the U.S. fleet to alleviate pressure on limited naval resources.”


Hunter went on to discuss the economic importance of the U.S.-flag fleet.


“Equally important, the U.S. domestic fleet carries more than a billion tons in cargo each year and contributes $100 billion in economic output. The fleet is U.S. owned, U.S. built and U.S. crewed, carrying grains, coal, iron ore, limestone and petroleum through inland waterways, across the Great Lakes and along the coasts,” he wrote. “The fleet consists of 40,000-plus tankers, barges, tugboats and offshore support vessels, many of which have been owned by family businesses that have been in the maritime industry for decades.”


Another prominent industry ally – the Navy League of the United States – took on the Obama administration’s proposed changes to the nation’s Food for Peace program and urged Congressional leaders to reject those changes as well.


Food for Peace, which ships American-grown food on American-crewed vessels to countries in need, has been a vital tool of American diplomacy and national defense, and currently helps sustain more than 44,000 American jobs. Under the administration’s proposed 2014 budget, the program would essentially be dismantled.


“The proposed elimination of this important program will significantly undermine the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine and our national defense sealift capability,” wrote the Navy League in a letter to leaders in both the House and Senate. “The United States Merchant Marine has been a necessary part of our national independence of action since the founding of our nation.”


The Navy League added the U.S. Merchant Marine has been especially important in recent years. More than 95 percent of the cargoes shipped to support the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq during the last 10 years were carried on U.S.-flag commercial and government ships crewed by American mariners.


“Because we can rely upon the U.S.-flag commercial fleet, our nation achieves significant savings by not having to replicate those 100 commercial ships in international trade and 11,500 mariners with federal assets,” the Navy League wrote. “To recreate the capacity it obtains from the U.S.-flag commercial industry, the Department of Defense would have to incur an additional $9 billion in capital costs and $1 billion in annual operating costs.”


Those savings, the Navy League wrote, more than make up for the costs of continuing the Food for Peace program.


“Leveraging the private fleet is a good deal for the taxpayer, and certainly offsets any putative savings to be achieved under the administration’s proposed (Food for Peace) elimination scheme,” the Navy League wrote.



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