The commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard’s biggest district told the Maritime Trades Department (MTD) executive board he is focused on safety, and he depends on industry stakeholders to continue acting as partners.
Rear Adm. David Callahan addressed the board March 9 in San Antonio, Texas. He is the commander of the agency’s Eighth District, which is headquartered in New Orleans. His command is responsible for Coast Guard operations spanning 26 states, including the Gulf of Mexico coastline from Florida to Mexico, the adjacent offshore waters and outer continental shelf, as well as the inland waterways of the Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Tennessee River systems.
In a wide-ranging speech, Callahan described the domestic maritime industry’s importance to U.S. national and economic security; emphasized the ongoing need for cooperative efforts from all components of that industry; and stated he identifies the people of the MTD and its affiliates as “patriots.”
A 35-year veteran of the agency, Callahan called the MTD critical and MTD President Michael Sacco “a great leader.” (Sacco also serves as president of the SIU.)
The admiral told the 200 or so attendees (including board members and guests) that he didn’t take the meeting for granted.
“Forums like this are absolutely critical to our overall mission in the Coast Guard,” he stated. “They allow us, with you, to take one of those badly needed pauses in action to get together and talk about some of the things that we all should be paying attention to. That allows us to reconnect and collaborate, and I think it’s vital to the overall health of the maritime industry to do these types of things.”
Pointing to the current national dialogue about the need to invest in America’s infrastructure, Callahan said that while the maritime industry often seems “invisible” to much of the public, “The U.S. [maritime] transportation system is not just a matter of economic importance and security. It is clearly a matter of national security. I think people tend to forget that sometimes…. The message should be loud and clear. The marine transportation system is national critical infrastructure.”
He then described the importance of “partnerships” in the industry that are essential to safety.
“As maritime operations expand in the coastal and offshore regions, industry partners like yourselves are going to continue to play a very vital role and help enhance what we call our maritime domain awareness with your constant presence out there on the water and around the water,” he said. “It’s your eyes that we depend upon. We are not everywhere for everybody at every time…. We depend on partnerships with organizations like yours and people like yourselves in maritime. That’s what we’re all about.
“Organizations such as the Maritime Trades Department are critical to the success of our missions and sustaining operations in the marine transportation system,” Callahan continued. “These organizations provide a wealth of experience and practical knowledge – not only for myself, and I’ve certainly taken advice and counsel from folks like yourselves out there – but to our sector commands that are out there in the field.”
Sharing preliminary data from a study that’s expected to be released soon, Callahan noted that nearly 5,500 tugboats and towboats and 31,000 barges move an average of 763 million tons of cargo on the nation’s waterways each year. Eight-four percent of all domestic waterborne commerce is moved by that barge fleet, coastwise and on the inland rivers, he added.
Continuing with statistics from the study, the admiral said, “Nationwide, the U.S. tugboat, towboat and barge industry directly employed 270,000 Americans workers in 2014, including vessel jobs, vessel-related shore jobs, you name it. And the industry also paid out more than $17 billion dollars in compensation. The cargoes moved by the industry alone are valued at well over $400 billion annually.
“No matter how you slice it, when you add those numbers you’re talking about well over a half-trillion-dollar economic enterprise,” he continued. “If that’s not an issue of national security, I don’t know what is. And you are all directly tied to that.”
He talked about America’s growing energy independence and what it already has meant for the maritime industry (including exports of LNG and crude oil).
“Even the most conservative projections show staggering growth in LNG and crude oil exports in the coming decades,” Callahan said. “If you look at the projections of where people are going to need this oil, there is a deficit in the world in most places. What we and Canada have, the world wants. That means business and commerce.”
He said that when commerce related to energy independence and growth increases, historical data shows that marine casualties also increase. Safety “is the biggest concern of mine,” he emphasized. “I’m going to implore our continued partnership to set those strategic safety and commerce goals that enable expanded commercial operation but responsible operation in the maritime sector.”
To that end, Callahan said, “We can’t lose focus on the people in the industry that execute these operations every day. We have to do everything possible to ensure that they are provided the proper training, and the proper support to maintain that safe operating environment.”
Describing the agency’s regulatory duties, the admiral said the Coast Guard “strives to be reasonable…. I emphasize the word reasonable, and finding that balance is the rub…. We believe in order to regulate effectively, industry folks like yourselves have to be brought to the table to help develop those regulations. We’re not the experts – you guys are…. That’s why I call this a partnership…. You will always be invited to the table, and we will always endeavor to understand and take into account your position. This is the manner in which we strive to regulate,” he concluded.