SIU President Michael Sacco discusses domestic shipbuilding and a number of Seafarers-contracted vessels on the horizon
Recently, I received a brief report on American shipbuilding that really highlighted both the industry’s strength and its potential.
Like those of us on the seagoing side, I know our brothers and sisters in the shipyards face their share of challenges in keeping the industry afloat. But even though I read just about all the maritime news I can get my hands on, I have to admit being a little surprised at just how well the domestic shipbuilding industry is doing. Seeing the construction orders in one chart really drove home the point.
More than 20 containerships and tankers are on order or already under construction in U.S. yards (most of them union facilities), with options for many more, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration. That is the biggest surge in almost 20 years. Most of them are being built for SIU-contracted operators, so new jobs are on the horizon for our members.
Those ships include a combination containership/ RO-RO due out this year for Pasha Hawaii, two LNG-powered containerships for TOTE, three tankers and an ATB for Seabulk, and two containerships for Matson. Also on order are four tankers and two combination containership/RO-ROS for Crowley plus five tankers for an affiliate of American Petroleum Tankers (ultimately managed by Crowley). That’s a total of 19 vessels with SIU crews, and that’s not counting options or other existing orders.
It also doesn’t count other construction orders that help sustain this vital part of our manufacturing base and our economy. For instance, in 2012, according to the report, U.S. shipbuilders delivered 1,260 patrol boats, tugs, barges, ferries and other vessels. Those same yards generated $20 billion in revenue.
The tanker orders are directly related to ongoing support for the Jones Act, one of the most important maritime laws in our nation’s history. As many of you know, the Jones Act requires cargo moving between domestic ports to be carried on vessels that are built, crewed, flagged and owned U.S. It doesn’t cost our nation a cent but it does help sustain nearly half a million jobs while pumping billions of dollars into the economy.
Without strong bipartisan backing of the Jones Act, there’s no way companies would invest in all those American-built tankers. It’s that simple, and it’s a powerful example of why the Jones Act is great public policy.
Our friends on the shipbuilding side can’t afford to let up, though. I recall another report, delivered at a Maritime Trades Department meeting a couple of years ago, which compared shipbuilding trends in the U.S. and United Kingdom. That presentation revealed that since the early 1950s, we’ve lost more than 300 shipyards, both commercial and naval. We now have around 100. The UK, following a similar decline, had five.
That’s not a position we should ever face, and the SIU will continue doing all we can to support our brothers and sisters from Aker Philadelphia to General Dynamics NASSCO and every union shipyard in between.
As we celebrate the United States’ 238th anniversary of Independence Day this month, let us not forget the vital roles performed by U.S. mariners and shipbuilders in securing and maintaining that independence.
This month’s message wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging our historic recent move from Brooklyn to Jersey City. It’s the right move for several reasons, but it’s also kind of stunning to realize this is the first time in our union’s 76-year history that we do not have a formal presence in New York City.
It’s not our first time operating a hall in Jersey City, though. Our affiliated United Industrial Workers union for many years had a hall in another part of the city, so this is a homecoming of sorts.
We’ll make sure the new SIU hall is a first-class facility that serves the members well, and I know we’ll be a vital part of the community. There are bound to be a few hiccups as we set up our operation, but it’s going to be worth it.