Phillips Stresses U.S. Merchant Marine’s Sealift Role
The leader of the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) recently provided a detailed overview of the agency’s goals and its vision for the industry’s future.
Maritime Administrator Rear Adm. (Ret.) Ann Phillips addressed the Maritime Trades Department Executive Board and other attendees Feb. 16 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. She commended the work of mariners, the unions that represent them, and U.S.-flag vessel operators.
“On behalf of the Maritime Administration and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, I am honored to join you to talk today about my priorities as the Maritime Administrator,” said Phillips. “As a retired surface warfare officer, I can tell you that, from the perspective of the Maritime Administration, our enduring commitment to historic naval elements – deterrence, sea control, power projection and maritime security – are and remain essential to our national security strategy today.”
She continued, “The only way we can achieve these results is the efforts that both you and your members contribute to our sealift enterprise. You are an essential part of the team, whether sailing on ships, building them or repairing them. It all depends on you, and we need your continued stewardship in this regard. I’ll do all I can, while I’m serving as administrator, to support the men and women you represent, because they are the backbone of our nation’s strength.”
Reflecting on the recent past, she said, “A lot has changed in the past three years, since the COVID-19 pandemic wracked the world. Outside of the medical community, there was no group of workers more affected than the transportation industry, and our transportation industry workforce. Mariners and transportation workers did not get to telework from home to move vital supplies and keep our supply chains open and moving, even though they were strained by unprecedented demand. Instead, they came to work in person, answering the call, working the ships, the ports and the shipyards, to keep us healthy, fed, and secure.
“Today, I know, the workforce is dealing with new challenges,” she continued. “Everywhere I go, everyone I talk to, everyone who comes to see me, wants to discuss their challenges in recruiting and retaining talent. This is a top concern of MARAD, and we are working with industry, management, and across government and with labor, to better understand the challenges and determine where we can lean in to help change the course with the tools that we have.”
She stated, “The Administration is unwavering in its support for the Jones Act. It is essential to maintaining our national security by ensuring sealift capability, and it supports well-paying union jobs.”
Phillips then spoke on the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, explaining, “… the FY23 NDAA made numerous changes to the Jones Act process. Specifically, it requires the president, rather than the Department of Homeland Security, to make determinations as to whether a waiver is in the best interest of national defense. It requires the Department of Homeland Security to publish when a request for a waiver is received, and prohibits the issuance of waivers until 48 hours have elapsed after the publication of the initial request. It also prohibits MARAD from conducting any retroactive surveys, and it prohibits the issuance of waivers for cargoes that are already laden. Taken as a whole, the NDAA changes make it clear that waiver requests are to be considered on a case-by-case basis, as we have done throughout this administration.
“I can assure you, we will continue to enforce the Jones Act in accordance with federal law,” Phillips said, to resounding applause.
Later, she also spoke of the potential challenges that await new and current mariners, before stating, “We must be able to meet this potential challenge, and to do that, it is critical to recognize that there is an essential interdependence between commercial and military elements of the maritime industry. A healthy commercial industry is critical to support the DOD’s force mobilizations – and, I would add as an aside, the Ready Reserve Fleet is responding to some of those requests as we speak.”
She continued, “Further, the size of our commercial fleet determines the number of billets available to sealift-qualified mariners, both officers and ratings, to meet our sealift sustainment needs. MARAD works at the overlapping intersections to strengthen our sealift enterprise, by administering commercial sealift programs, managing the operations of our Ready Reserve Force, and helping to train the next generation of mariners.”
She summarized, “Without mariners, there would be no ships. That’s the bottom line.”
After speaking at length on mariner safety and wellbeing, Phillips turned to the Maritime Security Program, which “maintains a fleet of 60 modern, privately owned, U.S.-flag vessels active in international commercial trade, and available on-call to meet DOD contingency requirements. The current fleet now provides cargo capacity that exceeds 3.4 million square feet, the highest level in the program’s history.”
Phillips also noted that the agency is working with “the Biden/Harris Administration’s Made in America office, to help agencies understand cargo preference requirements – and, by understanding, comply. I have also written to all federal departments and agencies, explaining how MARAD can help them ensure they meet their obligations under cargo preference laws and regulations.”
She concluded, “Our merchant marine constitutes the nation’s fourth arm of defense. It has been historically organized, trained and equipped to perform these three essential functions: sea control, power projection and maritime security. We at the Maritime Administration are working to ensure our mariners have the ships, the training and the resources that they need to meet our evolving sealift needs.”
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