The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate both held subcommittee hearings in mid-March on the state of the American maritime industry. One of the main points emphasized in both hearings was that the Jones Act is nothing short of vital for U.S. national, economic and homeland security.
On March 16, the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation conducted a hearing titled “President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Request for Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Programs.” Speakers included Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, U.S. Maritime Administrator Chip Jaenichen and Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Mario Cordero.
In his remarks, Admiral Zukunft reinforced the critical need for the Jones Act to secure a robust shipyard industrial base and skilled mariners necessary to uphold our nation’s maritime capability.
“You take the Jones Act away, the first thing to go is these shipyards and then the mariners. If you take the mariners away, what is the world going to look like 10 years from now? If we don’t have a U.S. fleet or U.S. shipyard to constitute that fleet how do we prevail? I am concerned that any repeal of the Jones Act would cut at the heart of that industrial base,” said Zukunft.
He added, “We inspect foreign ships that we trade with and on any given day we detain two or three ships because they are not in compliance even though the flag state claims they are in compliance. The U.S. does have a higher standard for safety and security and no one does it better than the United States.”
Zukunft further added, “My biggest focus is what does it do to our resiliency as a maritime nation – quite honestly it (weakening or eliminating the Jones Act) will bankrupt our maritime resiliency. When we look at the challenges that the Maritime Administrator and TRANSCOM are facing in the event of a contingency and we don’t have a lift within the U.S. fleet to respond to a contingency at a point in time that we are seeing the reemergence of pure competitors – it is in our nation’s best interest to protect our maritime resiliency and the Jones Act does provide that wherewithal.”
For nearly a century, the Jones Act has had strong bipartisan support in Congress, and it also has been backed by every president. The law requires that all cargo moving between two U.S. ports be carried out on U.S.-flag vessels, crewed by U.S. mariners. Those ships must be American-built and American-owned.
Echoing Zukunft’s strong remarks about the critical need for the Jones Act, Jaenichen stressed that without the U.S.- build requirement, our nation’s shipbuilding industrial base would gravely diminish.
“If the build requirement were changed, there are about 40 different yards around the county that are building both federal and commercial vessels (32 large vessels currently under construction). Without the Jones Act, those builds don’t occur, which means the federal government now has to assume all of the costs of the overhead for that industrial base, which raises the cost for those vessels,” said Jaenichen. “Without the commercial shipbuilding and that industrial base, it will have an effect on the taxpayer in terms of what we have to pay for the cost of acquiring those vessels for NOAA, Navy, Coast Guard, or USACE.”
The week prior, U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska), chair of the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Subcommittee, conducted a hearing titled, “The State of the U.S. Maritime Industry: The Federal Role” on Tuesday, March 8. The hearing examined U.S. maritime policy and provided oversight over the U.S. Maritime Administration, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and the Federal Maritime Commission.
Leaders from the U.S. Maritime Administration and the Federal Maritime Commission again provided testimony, including Jaenichen and Cordero, as well as Rear Adm. James Helis, United States Maritime Service Superintendent, United States Merchant Marine Academy; and Mitch Behm, assistant Inspector General, U.S. Department of Transportation.
The hearing touched on several important topics, including intermodal transport, dredging, and even sexual assault prevention. However, of particular importance to mariners was when U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) asked Jaenichen if he could provide the committee with an estimate of the number of U.S.-trained mariners and U.S.-flag ships needed to adequately protect the United States, through programs such as the Ready Reserve Fleet. Jaenichen replied that he recommends adding roughly 2,000 mariners and 45 new ships to the American-flag fleet, which would mean jobs for both mariners and union shipyards.
Both hearings detailed what SIU members already know: The Jones Act is a crucial component of life as we know it in America. It is of critical importance to the defense of our nation, a boon to our economy and a jobs provider for hundreds of thousands of hard-working Americans across the country.