SIU President Michael Sacco reflects on the recent House hearing that examined the state of the American maritime industry
There were a number of highly encouraging comments made at last month’s U.S. House of Representatives hearing on the state of the American maritime industry. These remarks included written testimony as well as dialogue that happened during the usual question-and-answer sessions that followed the prepared remarks from two separate panels.
Several things stood out to me about the supportive commentary. For one, it came from both sides of the aisle and from pretty much every component of our industry. For another, it reflected not only in-depth knowledge of the laws and programs that keep Old Glory flying on American-built ships and tugs and other vessels, but also the need to spread the word about precisely why the United States must maintain a viable U.S. Merchant Marine.
Congressman Duncan Hunter chaired the hearing of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, and as usual, he didn’t sugarcoat his pro-maritime views. I especially appreciated his description of the Jones Act. Congressman Hunter said in part, “In order for us to maintain the way of life as we know it as a nation that is secure and is able to project power, be it Navy power or commercial (maritime) power, the Jones Act is intrinsic to that. It’s the cornerstone of all of them.”
He also said it would be “stupid” and “absurd” to give away our shipbuilding capacity and let foreign-owned, foreign-crewed vessels loose on our waterways. I could not agree more.
But he finished with a vital point, and it may seem familiar if you’ve kept up with these columns. Congressman Hunter cited the need to “keep educating and educating because that’s what it’s going to take so that people understand why [America needs the Jones Act] and how it is one of the cornerstones of our entire country’s national security apparatus.”
You might recall that three other congressmen voiced the same sentiment during the Maritime Trades Department (MTD) convention in October. One of them, Congressman Bennie Thompson, said our industry has “the best message in the world.” But it’s up to us, collectively, to inform Congress, the administration, other politicians and the general public. It’s up to us to help people understand why America needs not only the Jones Act but also the Maritime Security Program, strong cargo preference laws, a fully functional U.S. Export-Import Bank and – most importantly in my admittedly biased eyes – a cadre of U.S. civilian mariners who are always available to uphold the U.S. Merchant Marine’s role as the fourth arm of defense.
The SIU works on this mission every day, whether through individual grassroots political action, or participating in departments like the MTD or coalitions like the American Maritime Partnership, or using our newspaper, website and social-media accounts to promote the outstanding work of SIU members. I agree with the congressmen who spoke at last month’s hearing and at the MTD convention – they basically said that some of our industry’s problems stem from lack of awareness about our outstanding value. That’s an ongoing project, but I think we’ve all stepped up and are making progress since last year’s hurricanes (which spurred some severe misrepresentations of what American maritime is really all about).
My thanks go to Congressman Hunter and Congressman John Garamendi (ranking member of the subcommittee) for conducting the hearing, and to the other representatives who attended and spoke out in favor of the U.S. Merchant Marine. They include Congressmen Garret Graves, Randy Weber, Rick Larsen and Alan Lowenthal.
With people like that on our side, we are going to succeed in revitalizing our industry. Our entire nation will benefit, and we’ll all be more secure.