America’s freight cabotage law – a vital source of U.S. maritime jobs – enjoys ongoing, strong support from the administration and from all components of the industry.
That conclusion was a main takeaway following the 2022 Capital Link Jones Act and U.S.-Flag Shipping Forum, an online conference that took place Feb. 24-25.
Acting U.S. Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley gave the keynote speech on the forum’s first day. Panelists throughout the event included representatives from domestic shipyards, law firms, and Seafarers-contracted companies including Crowley Maritime; Matson; TOTE; Pasha; Overseas Shipholding Group; Seabulk; Great Lakes Dredge & Dock; American President Lines; Liberty Maritime; and Maersk Line, Limited.
Lessley assured attendees that the administration’s support of American maritime is unwavering. “The Biden-Harris Administration is working on every front to support a strong U.S. Merchant Marine,” she said. “The administration is crystal clear that the U.S.-flagged fleet, including of course our Jones Act fleet, plays an essential role in both our national and our economic security. That is why, shortly after taking office, President Biden issued an executive order laying out his Made in America agenda. The order reaffirms what we have always known: The Jones Act is truly a ‘make it in America’ policy on our waterways.”
She continued, “As you know, the Jones Act guarantees that cargoes moved between U.S. ports travel on vessels that are built, owned, and crewed by Americans. Because of the Jones Act, today, more than 40,000 vessels of all types, all built in the United States, ply our nation’s waterways, reliably delivering domestic passengers and goods to the places they need to be using the most fuel-efficient mode of transportation available.”
The Jones Act, which has helped safeguard the nation for more than a century, “also ensures that we have strong domestic shipbuilding capability,” Lessley pointed out. “Our Jones Act fleet in turn supports more than 150 active shipyards that, according to a 2021 MARAD study, support nearly 400,000 jobs and generate $28.1 billion of annual labor income as well as more than $42 billion in GDP.
“The Jones Act also supports a domestic merchant fleet of 96 ocean-going vessels crewed by thousands of highly skilled, unionized merchant mariners qualified to operate sealift assets for national defense needs,” she added. “The Jones Act is truly a cornerstone of our U.S. maritime industry and the Biden-Harris Administration is working hard to strengthen this industry by building on this essential foundation. And with new opportunity on the horizon, such as the emergence of offshore wind as a renewable energy source, the Jones Act remains poised to remain the cornerstone of our nation’s maritime industry into the foreseeable future.”
She also discussed the America’s Marine Highways Program; investment in ports across the country; steps being taken to improve maritime workplace safety; and a formal Mariner Workforce Development Plan, which “will bolster safety, and support for both credentialed and prospective U.S. mariners based on several key goals, including supporting existing mariner workforce development programs, mariner education, and training institutions, and improving mariner workforce diversity and workplace safety,” Lessley stated. “This will be intended to nurture and grow a strong U.S. Merchant Marine, which is integral to the contiguous, non-contiguous, and international trade.”
Newly elected American Maritime Partnership (AMP) President Ku’uhaku Park also addressed the forum. (The SIU is an AMP affiliate.)
“I’m happy to report that overall support for the Jones Act in Congress and the administration has never been higher than it is today,” he said. “An overwhelming majority of the Members of Congress in both parties and in both chambers support the Jones Act. In addition to the Congress, this administration is extremely supportive of the Jones Act. President Biden strongly supported the Jones Act during the campaign and then reiterated his strong support publicly almost immediately upon taking office.”
He underscored the Jones Act’s importance: “The Jones Act is the fundamental law of our business, underpinning an industry that supports nearly 650,000 family-wage jobs and provides more than $150 billion in economic value every year. Labor income for the exceptional mariners and other workers in this industry totals about $40 billion annually. There are about 40,000 vessels in the U.S. domestic fleet – one of the largest domestic fleets in the world.”
Park said the rationale for backing the law remains quite sound.
“Historically, the Jones Act has enjoyed support for three reasons: national security, homeland security and economic security,” he said. “Senior military officials and senior homeland officials have consistently talked about the importance of the Jones Act to the security of our nation…. It is not lost on our elected leaders that repealing the Jones Act would be outsourcing our nation’s jobs and security.”
He said an additional reason “for the strong support today is the supply chain crisis, which has reminded us all in vivid ways that reliable transportation is not an academic point. The recent supply chain crisis has really underscored the importance of a reliable domestic maritime industry, particularly in the U.S. non-contiguous trades. Today, as you all know, America faces one of its worst supply chain disruptions ever for containerized cargoes…. It is a dismal picture with one bright spot: the performance of the U.S. domestic maritime industry…. Additionally, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, international carriers canceled more than 500 trans-Pacific sailings. In contrast, Jones Act carriers have provided uninterrupted service and maintained a lifeline to many states and communities.”