Christening Reflects Success, Hope

 

May 2015

 

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SIU President Michael Sacco discusses a particularly noteworthy ship christening plus the annual Sail-In.

 

The christening of TOTE’s first LNG-powered containership last month in San Diego truly was a spectacular event. The sights and sounds of the busy shipyard and new vessel, the enthusiasm of the big crowd, and the powerful remarks from guest speakers during the ceremony all made for a memorable night.

 

New-tonnage stories are always my favorite, but I had an extra interest in this one. My wife, Sophie, served as the vessel’s sponsor, and she did a great job with her remarks and with breaking the ceremonial bottle. (Really, aside from a winning locker room, how many chances do we have to drench people with champagne and get complimented for it?)

 

The choice of a maritime union president’s wife as a ship sponsor is a big deal. It reflects the true partnership that exists with the SIU and our vessel operators – in this case, TOTE, whom we’ve worked with since the company’s founding back in the 1970s. I also think the varied backgrounds of the guest speakers as well as others in attendance underscore the collective, industry-wide effort to revitalize every component of maritime. When labor and management, the military and our government are all pushing for the U.S. Merchant Marine and U.S. shipbuilding, we’re a formidable team.

 

That’s what was on display at the christening, which took place at a union shipyard: General Dynamics NASSCO. And we had a lot to celebrate together – first and foremost (for me) the jobs created and sustained by this new-build program. The environmentally friendly technology is important, too, as is the fact that these Marlin Class vessels will sail in the Jones Act trade.

 

Seafarers know how important the Jones Act is to America’s national and economic security. This new ship is further proof that the Jones Act works, and it helps keep America working. It helps sustain the manpower pool of shipbuilders and seafarers who are so critical to our national security. It brings state-of-the-art tonnage into the American-flag fleet. And it gives everyone in our industry greater hopes for a bright future and a true revitalization of the U.S. Merchant Marine.

 

Something that wasn’t widely reported after the launch, but that’s also noteworthy, is that the vessel and her sister ship are being financed through the Title XI shipbuilding loan guarantee program. As the U.S. Maritime Administration puts it, the agency’s Title XI program “promotes the growth and modernization of U.S. shipyards and the U.S. Merchant Marine by ensuring that American vessels are manufactured in American shipyards by American workers.” That’s a winning formula, especially when considering the fact that the program guarantees the repayment of loans.

 

Again, it was a great night and a clear example that our industry not only can survive, it can flourish.

 

Annual Sail-In

Nearly a month before the christening, our industry was out in force for the annual Congressional Maritime Sail-In, as we delivered our message on Capitol Hill. Although our friends in Congress already know how critical our industry is to national and economic security, the Sail-In gives our people a chance to reinforce support while also presenting our issues to newly elected members on both sides of the aisle.

 

One key topic this time was the U.S. Export-Import Bank. The bottom line is, unless Congress acts to reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank, the 80-year-old program will disappear. Congress’ indecision about Ex-Im may be brought about from misinformation they’ve been led to believe. The facts are, first of all, the Ex-Im Bank is not a uniquely American institution. At least 60 other countries have similar programs, though not all are self-sustaining like ours.

 

Another common misconception is that Ex-Im loans only help big companies. That argument couldn’t be more wrong. Nearly 90 percent of Ex-Im transactions in 2014 were in support of small businesses.

 

Lastly, and this point can’t be made enough, the Ex-Im Bank is not a drain on the economy. It is self-sustaining, costing taxpayers nothing, and has contributed nearly $2 billion dollars towards paying down the national debt.

 

As I mentioned last month, the SIU and our allies are fighting for this program, which is good for the country.

 

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