A longtime backer of the U.S. Merchant Marine isn’t letting up in his efforts to promote the industry.
On Oct. 3, U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-California) introduced the bipartisan “Rebuilding the United States-Flag International Fleet Act” (H.R.9102), along with cosponsors U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) and U.S. Rep. Alan S. Lowenthal (D-California). Among other advancements, the legislation would strengthen federal cargo preference laws to increase the number of U.S.-flagged commercial vessels delivering cargo to foreign ports.
The bill is backed by the SIU, as well as the Maritime Trades Department, Transportation Trades Department, Liberty Maritime, Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA), International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P), and the Maritime Institute for Research and Industrial Development (MIRAID), among other organizations.
Garamendi, who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and serves as a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said, “For too long, Congress and both Democratic and Republican presidents have allowed the commercial fleet of U.S.-flagged, ocean-going vessels to dwindle. The global supply chain crunch during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion and blockade of Ukraine, and the People’s Republic of China’s island building in the South China Sea and saber-rattling in the Taiwan Strait have shown that the United States cannot remain reliant on foreign vessels flying flags of convenience.
“My comprehensive, bipartisan legislation would help to recapitalize the U.S.-flag fleet of ocean-going, commercial vessels by guaranteeing government cargo during peacetime so that U.S.-flag vessels are available during wartime or emergencies,” he continued. “The United States has the world’s most capable Navy, and we need an equally impressive fleet of commercial cargo vessels crewed by American mariners,” concluded Garamendi.
According to Garamendi’s office, the bill would:
- Restore the requirement in place from 1985 to 2012 that at least 75% of gross tonnage of seaborne cargo for international food aid programs be carried on U.S.-flagged vessels. Current law only requires 50% minimum gross tonnage, following a sneaky cut to the program.
- Restore the requirement in place from 1985 to 2012 that the U.S. Department of Transportation reimburse international food aid programs for any cost premium under the U.S.-flagged vessel cargo preference, to protect the overall budget for food aid exports from increased shipping costs.
- Reaffirm the Maritime Administration (MARAD) as the only federal agency able to waive the U.S.-flag requirement for government cargo, in the rare instances when such commercial vessels are unavailable at fair and reasonable rates.
- Strengthen transparency and oversight by requiring public notice online of all waivers of the U.S.-flag requirement and timely notification to Congress. Current law holds similar requirements for waiving the Jones Act.
- Allow vessels seeking federal cargo contracts to be re-flagged into the United States registry for less than three years, provided they satisfy similar requirements as vessels enrolled in the existing Maritime Security Program.
- Clarify that the current U.S.-flag vessel requirement for international food aid applies to all agricultural products, not just commodity crops.
- Implement the reforms to cargo preference laws recommended by the Government Accountability Office’s report on “Actions Needed to Enhance Cargo Preference Oversight,” published on Sept. 12, 2022.
The full text of the “Rebuilding the United States-Flag International Fleet Act” is available online.