During times of war or national emergency, the U.S. government relies on the U.S. Merchant Marine and its public-private partnership with the Department of Defense to ensure there is adequate U.S.-controlled capacity to transport critical cargo anywhere in the world at any time.
Thanks to this partnership, the U.S. Merchant Marine’s vessels, infrastructure and manpower are at the nation’s disposal whenever necessary. Without this, our assured ability to deliver military equipment and supplies quickly and efficiently to our soldiers would be severely diminished.
As former administrators of the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), we have experienced firsthand how vital the U.S. Merchant Marine is to national defense. We were therefore very disappointed to see that the final version of the 2012 Surface Transportation Act — without open discussion or debate — contained a provision that undermines the U.S. Merchant Marine, jeopardizing national security and eliminating thousands of American jobs in the process.
Repeals U.S. Cargo Preferences
The provision in question, which repealed one-third of long-standing U.S. cargo preference requirements stipulating that U.S. international food aid must be carried by American-owned and-crewed ships, harms our nation’s commercial sealift capability and causes an immediate, detrimental impact on the Pentagon’s ability to move equipment and supplies by sea.
The U.S. will lose the use of an estimated 16 U.S. flag vessels once this provision goes into effect, as well as a highly trained workforce and important intermodal capabilities. MARAD estimates that this change in cargo preference law will lead to a loss of $90 million per year in revenue and 2,000 direct and indirect jobs, including 640 seagoing mariner jobs.
Since its founding in 1776, our nation has depended on the U.S. Merchant Marine to ensure that we have a trustworthy, reliable sealift capability so no country can have a veto over U.S. foreign policy.
Most recently, U.S. flag vessels safely and effectively carried more than 90 percent of military supplies for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without the citizen merchant mariners manning these ships, the U.S. would be forced to depend on politically unreliable foreign ships and foreign crews to carry some of its most important cargoes.
The U.S. Merchant Marine is critical not only because it is a trustworthy extension of U.S. military capabilities, but also because it is cost-effective. In fact, MARAD has indicated that the Defense Department would need $13 billion in capital costs plus $1 billion in annual operating costs to replicate the sealift capacity that it obtains at a fraction of that price through the U.S. Merchant Marine.
Given the looming sequestration deadline and its huge potential impact on the Pentagon, it simply does not make sense for the Defense Department to shoulder these costs.
To reverse this unfortunate situation, Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Republican Rep. Jeff Landry of Louisiana, as well as 40 other co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, proposed the Saving Essential American Sailors (SEAS) Act, H.R. 6170.
We salute them for recognizing the national security imperative of ensuring the readiness of the U.S. Merchant Marine, and we urge other members to join the movement to enact this bill and reverse the unwarranted and dangerous cut in U.S. flag shipping requirements.
We understand that congressional leaders must often make tough decisions. Reversing the cut to cargo preference and preserving the U.S. Merchant Marine is not one of them.
The United States loses far more than it gains from the loss of sealift capability caused by the 2012 Surface Transportation Act. The United States needs a vibrant U.S. Merchant Marine and cannot afford to lose the sealift capability upon which so much depends. The cut to cargo preference should be reversed.
Retired Capt. William Schubert, left, administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration from 2001 to 2005, and retired Vice Adm. Albert Herberger, administrator of the Maritime Administration from 1993 to 1997. Both serve as maritime consultants.