Maritime’s Message


June 2013


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SIU President Michael Sacco credits the union and partners from throughout the industry for delivering important pro-maritime messages in the nation’s capital.


Last month, the SIU capitalized on several chances to remind legislators, administration officials and military leaders why our country needs a strong U.S. Merchant Marine. We did so at the annual “Sail-In” on Capitol Hill, in separate meetings with members of Congress, in testimony at a congressional hearing, and at the National Maritime Day ceremonies in Washington, D.C.


As Seafarers know, like many if not most other industries in the United States today, maritime faces global competition. The difference for us is that the competition between U.S. businesses and foreign ones never happens on a level playing field. Foreign vessels operators don’t have to meet the same safety standards as American operators, many foreign-build programs are heavily subsidized, and our mariners don’t benefit from the very favorable tax regimes and nationalized health care of many of our largest competitors.


When faced with similar circumstances, other industries have died off. Unlike most of them, however, the American maritime industry is a critical component of our defense capability. That’s why the United States cannot allow the merchant marine to fade away. Without a U.S.-flag merchant marine – both ships and mariners – our nation would cease to be a superpower. We would not be able to project power around the globe, and we could not meet our many foreign commitments.


Look no further back than the last dozen years for proof. The overwhelming majority (90-plus percent) of the materiel needed by our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq was carried on American-flag ships, almost all of them with SIU crews. Take away those mariners and those vessels, and the U.S. would have had to rely on foreigners to move millions of tons of supplies into a war zone. History has shown more than once that foreigners don’t always share our commitment to deliver the goods, with some of the most recent examples occurring several times during Desert Shield/Desert Storm in the early 1990s.


Remember also how we “turned to” for humanitarian relief missions in Haiti, Japan and elsewhere around the globe, including extended missions by Seafarers-crewed hospital ships in the Military Sealift Command fleet.


Historically, Congress has recognized this value, and that’s why it has always been the policy of the United States government to support the American Merchant Marine.


I often write about some of the key programs that help sustain our industry. That’s because those programs are so important to SIU members’ job security. I know how many hoops you have to jump through these days just to ship out. I don’t take it lightly when I ask you to take the time to understand the basic aspects of the Jones Act, cargo preference and the Maritime Security Program. These measures are vital. Without them, our jobs all go away, and so does the American flag on the high seas.


Those programs have been attacked in recent years, presently in the form of budget battles that could wipe out the Food for Peace Program. Our union, along with allies across the industry, has said enough is enough. We cannot allow a dismantlement of the core programs that make the U.S. Merchant Marine possible. The constant attacks must end and we must start using our energies to expand our industry, not shrink it.


I’m happy to report that in spite of the attacks, thanks to grassroots political action including your letters, visits and calls to elected officials, we have seen some positive legislative action, and I am confident that we stand poised to expand on it.


For one thing, earlier this year, Congress reauthorized the Maritime Security Program for an additional 10 years, keeping the program running through 2025. We also saw the release of a favorable Government Accountability Office study of the Jones Act and its impact on Puerto Rico. On the Food for Peace front, we are actively working with Congress to restore the cuts made last year. Restoring these cuts will help maintain our competitiveness and keep the U.S.-Flag fleet moving.


As we look ahead, our future must be one in which the U.S. Merchant Marine is expanding. The SIU and the rest of the industry are working together to make it happen. We’re on the verge of some exciting new developments and we will be ready to take advantage of them.


These are some of the points we’ve recently made in Washington. The bottom line is that the U.S. Merchant Marine is critical to the economic, national and homeland security of our country. It is high time that we, as a nation, rededicate ourselves to the principles that have kept our maritime industry afloat since the founding of the Republic.



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