Fourth Arm of Defense
At press time, much of the world seemed on edge due to a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
While it goes without saying that the hope here is for a diplomatic solution, our job in the SIU is to always be ready to support our troops. The current situation involving Russia is a reminder of one reason why we need a U.S. Merchant Marine and why the SIU constantly advocates for the laws and programs that help maintain American crews and American sealift capacity.
If and when the balloon goes up (not just in this current circumstance), it’s always a moment of truth for American maritime’s centuries- old role as our fourth arm of defense. In those instances, while there never has been and never will be any hesitation by our mariners to answer the call, we’ve got to have the personnel and the ships in the first place.
This is why, when the SIU advocates for the Jones Act, cargo preference laws, the Maritime Security Program, domestic shipbuilding, and newer tools such as the Tanker Security Program and Cable Security Fleet, we’re really pushing to boost national, economic and homeland security. It’s no secret that our industry, like many others, faces a manpower shortage. High-ranking military officials have openly stated as much in recent years. One way to alleviate that deficiency and bring more people into the industry is by maintaining, growing or establishing policies and programs that back the U.S. Merchant Marine.
For anyone new to maritime, you may not know that in times of crisis, most U.S. military cargoes are carried by civilian-crewed ships. During Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, for example, the U.S. Merchant Marine transported more than 90 percent of the materiel supporting our troops. This has been the case in virtually every conflict since our nation’s founding, most prominently during World War II. There’s simply no debate about the vital importance, time-tested reliability, and ongoing need for a strong U.S. maritime industry. Collectively, we as a nation must continue taking steps to support and revitalize it.
An Ill-Conceived Proposal
The men and women who serve aboard U.S.-flag merchant vessels answer the call not just during mobilizations for national defense but also when aid is needed for victims of natural disasters, as seen in recent years when hurricanes and earthquakes rocked Puerto Rico.
American merchant mariners are the gold standard for the world in terms of safety and training. And they always deliver – from iron ore for steel mills along the Great Lakes to food aid to hungry citizens in Africa, and from materiel for American armed forces stationed around the world to vital household goods at domestic ports.
For generations, foreign interests and their allies have tried to find ways to circumvent U.S. labor and tax laws to take good jobs away from hard-working Americans. The latest effort, announced last month, calls for the creation of a so-called open registry for the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). As outlined, this initiative would take away cargo from U.S.-flag vessels, crewed by American citizens, and place it on ships that do not use American crews, do not pay American taxes and do not meet American safety and labor standards.
This attempt to create a flag of convenience using the USVI is wrong and harmful to American workers.
The SIU has joined with allies from throughout maritime labor in calling upon the Biden Administration, the Congress, the Department of Defense and the Maritime Administration to reject any effort that USVI-flag vessels be treated as if they are the same as U.S.-flag, U.S.-crewed ships for any purpose or for any program. At the same time, we reiterate our commitment to work with the Biden Administration and the Congress to achieve a more robust, commercially viable U.S.-flag, U.S.-crewed fleet that will continue to protect America’s economic, military and homeland security.