While 2020 served up more than its share of challenges, the year ended with a flurry of good news for the American maritime industry.
Late last year, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which included a number of critical maritime provisions. The president vetoed the bill for reasons completely unrelated to the maritime components, but Congress overrode the veto.
One highlight of the NDAA for the maritime industry is the creation of a 10-ship Tanker Security Fleet, modeled after the successful Maritime Security Program (MSP), to provide a stipend to shipowners who make their militarily useful tankers available in times of war or national emergency. This provision, like many others in the overall legislation, has been supported by the SIU for years.
Also of great significance, the NDAA included a section that confirms the Jones Act applies to all offshore wind farms inside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, including those on the Outer Continental Shelf. It also included provisions clarifying that Jones Act defense-related waivers may only be issued for legitimate national defense needs; non-defense waivers are time-limited; and foreign vessels that take advantage of any Jones Act waiver will be subject to significant public reporting requirements.
The bill also requires the comptroller general of the United States to undertake a review of all federal agencies’ compliance with cargo preference laws, and highlight those agencies who are not following the law properly.
“It is hard to overstate how big a win this was for maritime labor,” said SIU Legislative and Political Director Brian Schoeneman. “Not only did we see the creation of the new Tanker Security Fleet, we saw an increased authorization amount for MSP, clarification that the Jones Act applies to offshore wind farms and we are finally taking a big step towards getting some real enforcement of the cargo preference laws. It was one of the biggest wins for maritime we’ve seen in years.”
The NDAA also included two maritime-related “Sense of the Congress” statements that put the government on record as to what official policy is. Those read:
“It is the Sense of Congress that United States coastwise trade laws promote a strong domestic maritime industry, which supports the national security and economic vitality of the United States and the efficient operation of the United States transportation system; and a strong commercial maritime industry makes the United States more secure.” (Sec. 3522)
“It is the Sense of Congress that the maritime industry of the United States contributes to the Nation’s economic prosperity and national security.” (Sec. 8403)
Finally, the NDAA established a new Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief program designed to ensure that the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and other agencies within the federal government have the authority to provide relief to parts of the industry that have been severely impacted by an emergency, such as our continuing efforts to combat COVID-19.
These provisions represent a major win for the SIU, and will be important to helping protect and expand our U.S. Merchant Marine in the future.
Congress Passes Major Funding Bill
In addition to the NDAA, Congress also passed an omnibus appropriations bill that included significant funding for maritime priorities.
The appropriations act provides full funding for the Maritime Security Program fleet – $314 million for fiscal year 2021. The full funding level allows for a stipend of approximately $5.23 million for each of the MSP’s 60 militarily useful U.S.-flagged ships, which are crewed by U.S. merchant mariners and operate in international commercial trades.
In addition to the MSP funding, the bill provided $376 million for the National Defense Reserve Fleet, nearly $2 billion for cargo preference programs including the PL-480 Food for Peace Program, $390 million for the final National Security Multi-Mission Vessel “school ship,” and $10 million to fully fund the Cable Security Fleet program.