Speakers Stress Need for New American-Flag Tonnage
Members of Congress, the administration and the armed forces earlier this week emphasized the importance of the U.S. Merchant Marine and American-flag sealift capability.
They spoke during a May 18 joint hearing of the U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittees on Seapower and Projection Forces and Readiness.
The hearing in part focused on the need to recapitalize the U.S.-flag fleet. Speakers also underscored the importance of U.S. mariners, the Jones Act, cargo preference laws, the U.S. Maritime Security Program, and the new U.S. Tanker Security Program.
U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-California), chairman of the Readiness Subcommittee, stated, “I remain concerned that we are not doing enough now to recapitalize our sealift fleet to meet capacity requirements. We need a national sealift fleet of smaller, affordable, more numerous ships and we have to start this effort now. Failure to do so will place the Marines, the Army, the Navy, and anybody else that wants to fight anywhere in the world in an unacceptable risk and force projection capability beginning in 2024. Actually, today.”
Ranking member U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) said, “Given the current state of our sealift capability it would appear that we are in trouble. Almost all of our forward combat unit equipment moves by sea. But our ships are old and some near obsolete. The Army has stated that planned fleet reductions could result in, quote, ‘Unacceptable risk in force projection capability beginning in 2024,’ unquote. I know that TRANSCOM can influence but not direct service budget decisions. But I look forward to hearing concrete solutions and long-term plans, not simply relying on service-life extensions to rebuild the fleet.”
U.S. Gen. Stephen Lyons, commanding officer of the U.S. Transportation Command, said that he and Garamendi and Lamborn “are in complete agreement on the essence of having a strong U.S.-flag mariner fleet, both organic and commercial, and then the mariners that sail both of them are a critical component of our national defense and our national security. The work this committee has done on the Tanker Security Program is great work. We fully support that. We fully support the Jones Act and the Maritime Security Program.”
Later in the hearing, Lyons added that the new tanker program “is critical in my view when I look at the liquid energy value chain and what that represents – the way it operates today and the way we will need to warfit to operate under all domain persistent attack. It’s clear that we need to have a U.S.-flag capability to meet our national defense and national security needs. Today, that’s not the case (with tankers). We have a large dependency not just on commercial tankering but foreign-flag commercial tankering. I think this program will be an important step to move us to a U.S.-flag dependency which I think is critical to the national defense.”
Additionally, he said that any waiver of the Jones Act “should be a rare exception.”
Acting U.S. Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley weighed in on recent requests for Jones Act waivers. She stated, “I personally and I think a lot of my colleagues continue to believe that waivers such as these should be thoroughly vetted, rare, short, and only granted in exceptional emergency circumstances…. The administration has made clear its support for the Jones Act”
She also commended the pandemic-era work of American mariners. Lessley said, “The members of the U.S. Merchant Marine have gone above and beyond to ensure the continued operation of our maritime transportation system during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Moreover, Lessley reiterated the administration’s backing of the Tanker Security Program and cargo preference laws.
“The newly authorized Tanker Security Program has the potential to address the need for more U.S.-flag product tankers in support of both national economic needs and DOD contingency requirements,” she said. “Cargo preference requirements keep vessels operating under the U.S. flag and create U.S. mariner jobs. MARAD is committed to ensuring compliance with cargo preference requirements and we continue outreach to federal agencies and industry to assist them in understanding and meeting these requirements.”
She added, “Access to a pool of qualified mariners from a robust commercial maritime fleet is essential to maintain sealift readiness. And due to the small number of ships in the U.S.-flag oceangoing fleet, MARAD is concerned about our ability to quickly assemble an adequate number of qualified mariners should an extended mobilization occur.”