The SIU and other maritime labor organizations wasted no time blasting a prosed open registry in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).
Even before a sparsely attended media event had begun Feb. 1 in the nation’s capital to announce the proposal, American maritime labor circulated a joint statement making clear the scheme’s pitfalls. (Despite some online news reports, the USVI’s open register is a proposal, not a done deal.) The message came from the SIU; the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers; the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association; the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots; the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific; the Marine Firemen’s Union; the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO; and the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.
Collectively, those organizations said that on behalf of U.S. mariners “who have proudly and without fail served our country since its founding, we oppose in the strongest possible terms the (proposed) creation of an open registry in the Virgin Islands, a territory of the United States. Open registries exist so that shipowners can increase their profits by avoiding the same rules, regulations, tax obligations and manning requirements that attach to a national flag fleet. This latest effort is nothing more than an exercise in labor arbitrage designed to generate registry fees and to enrich foreign shipowners at the expense of American workers and America’s national interests.”
They continued, “The proposed U.S. Virgin Islands flag of convenience open registry will not benefit the United States nor America’s maritime industry, any more than any other second or open registry benefits a national flag country. In fact, the establishment and growth of second registries by other industrialized nations has done little more than decimate their national flag fleets to the point that they are no longer able to provide the requisite military security and logistical support to their flag nations.”
The unions and AFL-CIO departments said the proposal to allow for the operation of vessels with foreign mariners under a United States open registry “is an affront to the American mariners who have always put themselves in harm’s way whenever called upon by our nation. Their service, most recently recognized by Congress with the awarding of a Congressional Gold Medal to World War II American merchant mariners, demonstrates a clear and unwavering commitment on the part of American merchant mariners to supply and support American troops deployed around the world, with no regard for their own safety. American mariners believe that our servicemen and women and their families deserve no less.”
More than one observer expressed puzzlement at the pro-open-registry faction’s suggestion that such a system would benefit American security. The joint statement noted, “The military security of the United States will not be strengthened by relying on foreign-owned and foreign-crewed vessels. The safety of American troops deployed overseas and the success of their mission must not be put in jeopardy by a reliance on a flag of convenience open registry scheme that utilizes foreign crewed vessels to deliver what our servicemen and women need to do their job in our behalf.
“Finally, if the supply chain crisis has taught us anything it is that we, as a country, must begin to reverse the dangerous reliance we have on foreign sources for goods and for shipping services,” the statement concluded. “Increasing America’s dependence on foreign-owned and foreign-manned vessels will exacerbate the current situation and will not somehow magically enhance America’s maritime posture. We call upon the Department of Defense, the Maritime Administration, the Biden Administration and the Congress to reject any suggestion that United States Virgin Islands-flag vessels be treated as if they are U.S.-flag and U.S.-crewed vessels for any purpose or for any program. At the same time, we reiterate our commitment to work with the Administration and 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.”
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