SIU President Michael Sacco underscores the long, effective partnership between the U.S. Merchant Marine and our nation’s military personnel
Secretary of Transportation nominee Elaine Chao made a vital point about the U.S. Merchant Marine’s role in supporting our troops during her confirmation hearing in the United States Senate. While answering a question last month in the nation’s capital, Secretary Chao noted that, in times of conflict, the vast majority of materiel needed by our men and women in uniform is delivered by civilian mariners on American-flag ships.
For those of us who work in the maritime industry, of course, that’s common knowledge. But I think it was valuable and important to have those comments on the record, for the benefit of those less familiar with the crucial work performed by Seafarers and other U.S. mariners. Let’s face it: We’ve all spent time in conversation explaining the basics of the U.S. Merchant Marine, often clearing up misconceptions in the process.
The pro-maritime segments of the confirmation hearing reminded me of comments made last year by General Darren McDew, commander, United States Transportation Command. During a hearing on the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP) – one of the key components of our industry – General McDew stated, “The nation is still a maritime nation…. I can deliver an immediate force anywhere on the planet tonight. But to deliver a decisive force it takes a fully-fledged, competent maritime fleet. And that’s what the MSP provides us.”
The general went on to describe the privately operated, U.S.-flag international fleet as “vital to moving military goods and hardware” and added, “without mariners, we don’t have a capability.”
These are some of the messages we will be amplifying March 1 at the annual Maritime Congressional Sail-In. As many Seafarers know, during this yearly outreach event, representatives from all segments of our industry team up for a full day of meetings with senators, congressional representatives and their staffs. Whether we’re meeting with a freshman or an old friend who’s been on Capitol Hill for years, we promote the laws and programs that keep the U.S. Merchant Marine afloat. Most importantly, we promote YOU – the rank-and-file mariner.
Parts of those discussions are history lessons, very much in line with Secretary Chao’s comments last month. She specifically cited the Persian Gulf War and then Operation Iraqi Freedom as examples of times when our mariners ably and reliably delivered the goods for our troops. And of course, there are many other examples dating all the way back to our nation’s founding. From the Revolutionary War to World War II to Korea and Vietnam to the present day, we’ve always been there, ready, willing and able to sail into harm’s way. With a nod to our World War II mariners, “Damn the submarine! We’re the men of the merchant marine!” (You youngsters can look up the lyric if you’re not familiar with it.)
The way we’ll stay ready to back our armed forces is by maintaining the MSP and the Jones Act and cargo preference laws. We also need to take the shackles off of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. And heaven knows, it’s past time to sensibly ease the regulatory burdens on our women and men who go down to the sea in ships. As I’ve mentioned, no one is asking for a return to the days when a z-card was good for life and the only physical exam involved being able to fog a mirror. But all the red tape nowadays – however wellintended – is hurting our industry. There isn’t an overnight cure but we will continue to seek a better balance that is less burdensome on Seafarers.
Meanwhile, we look forward to continuing our service as America’s fourth arm of defense. That role has never been more important, and I want all of our military members and their families to know, you can count on us!