Category: Maritime Administration

U.S. National Maritime Strategy Symposium: Cargo Opportunities and Sealift Capacity

The U.S. Maritime Administration wants our input!  From the 14th – 16th of January, the National Maritime Strategy Symposium will be held in Washington D.C.  For more information visit http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=MARAD-2013-0101-0001.  Today, November 29th, is the last day to submit suggestions for discussion.   You’ll find my suggestions below.  Be there, follow online or contact your representatives to be part of the process.

Docket ID : MARAD 2013-0101
Agency : Maritime Administration
Parent Agency : Department of Transportation

Suggested Topics of discussion :

1. Educate the general public and politicians about the U.S. merchant marine, its wide spread effect on the U.S. economy and the number of jobs directly and indirectly created by it. Compare and contrast the existing jobs associated with U.S.-flagged foreign and domestic shipping with ones that might be created with an effective maritime strategy. Particular attention should be paid to the U.S. merchant marine’s role in the overall logistics industry.
a. Use of social media – note effective use by companies such as Maersk Lines Limited
b. Direct advertising
c. Outreach to elementary and high schools – possibly best done by merchant mariners themselves.
d. Increased focus on apprentice-style programs – Vigor Industrial’s shipbuilding training and MITAGS Workboat program are two excellent examples.
The maritime industry is an economic powerhouse. Implementing a national maritime strategy and promoting growth within the maritime industry will have a positive impact on the country. Unfortunately, until we get the general public, politicians and media to understand that, we’re “only preaching to the choir.” Right now, the media (in general) have branded us a pet project of special interests – we need to change that perception and show the country the tangible benefits.

2. Implement the America’s Marine Highways programs. Increased short-sea shipping on all 4 of the United States’ coastlines and inland river systems can :

a. Take trucks off the roads, helping to reduce congestion, increase fuel economy and alleviate the current truck driver shortage.
b. Increase the job-base for merchant mariners
c. Increase job orders at U.S. shipyards for Jones Act vessels

In order to introduce short-sea shipping, we must have realistic “shovel-ready” projects. One point to emphasize to both the general public and politicians is that providing grants for short-sea shipping projects is a job-multiplier. Not only do we have the jobs directly funded by such a grant, we have the long term jobs created once the short-sea system is up and running.

While we have the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants available, a large portion of them are used for road projects and revitalizing urban areas. Shifting future TIGER grants to a modal-change emphasis (i.e. taking trucks off the road) or creating a new system of grants to do this would create an atmosphere where short-sea shipping projects could get off the ground. The European Union’s Marco Polo program is a good example, with demonstrable successes, that we could emulate.

3. Increased focus on Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) activities. Implement requirements to use U.S.-flag vessels and U.S. merchant mariners for activities such as wind-farm construction and maintenance.

New Day Dawning as Matsuda Departs

With former U.S. Maritime Administrator David Matsuda heading for the door, is there a new day dawning for shortsea shipping in the United States?  That light in the East might be the dawn of a new day for the U.S. maritime industry or it might be the final cataclysmic flash in the pan for this beleaguered industry. 

It was intimated by a U.S. Maritime Administration official not long ago that the lack of emphasis on the maritime industry and shortsea shipping originated not with the U.S. Maritime Administrator, nor with the Secretary of Transportation, but at the highest levels of the Obama administration.  As the House of Representatives convenes a special committee on intermodal transportation, perhaps there is an opportunity to finally move the America’s Marine Highway program forward.

Maritime Executive’s Tony Munoz recently opined that the U.S. could learn from the EU’s short sea policies.  The success of the European model in regards to job creation, economic value and environmental impact (or lack thereof) is enviable.  An interesting graphic on some of the successes of the EU Marco Polo Project here.

As gCaptain’s John Konrad put it, “…no one in shipping has ignored the problem.   What they have done is wasted millions on spreadsheets and PowerPoints to convince each other how much this will benefit shipping……our time needs to be spent outside official channels. Don’t write your congressmen about short sea shipping write Fox News about how frustrated you are sitting in I-95 traffic, and get your wife to write about how the rust on your bridge scares the s$%^ out of her every time she crosses it with the kids.”

These guys have some very valid points.  Perhaps there IS hope for America’s Marine Highway and the U.S. Merchant Marine…..if there is a Maritime Administrator from the maritime industry,

More information on the European Union’s maritime strategy here.

Interesting discussion on shortsea shipping on gCaptain here.

The End of an Era? Will These Ships Be Back?

The port of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania was the temporary home to two U.S. flagged cargo vessels this past weekend. Far from family, the merchant mariners onboard the container ship Maersk Alabama and the bulk carrier Liberty Glory were in this East African port offloading cargo, much as they have in ports ranging from Hodeidah, Yemen to Mombasa, Kenya. These exotic sounding cities are far from the norm for most Americans, but for the close to 50 U.S. merchant mariners onboard these vessels, on that day, it was home.Dar es Salaam

Maersk Alabama and Liberty Glory are operated by far different companies and crewed by officers from different unions, but there is one common denominator: They have both benefited from the Food for Peace program. Without such programs, it is unlikely that these vessels from the United States would have met in this far off land. For the U.S. mariners, it is an opportunity to work in a challenging and dynamic industry. For some of the 923 million hungry and starving people in the world, it is much more personal: They get to eat.

Much has been said in the press recently about changes to the Food for Peace program. President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget calls for major changes to this program. Specifically, he would rather that we write foreign countries and non-governmental organizations (NGO) a check so that they can buy food whenever and wherever they see fit. The perceived goal? Cost savings.

For the U.S. mariner’s on these vessels, it’s personal. One, it’s their jobs – jobs such that the Obama administration or any other country would wish to create. Two, with every call to these distant ports, with every cup of coffee or joke shared with the local longshoremen, with every successful cargo evolution, it’s personal. For the U.S. seaman, it’s not just a newspaper story about poor and starving, it’s the spare pair of coveralls or old work shoes that you give to the longshoreman that doesn’t have any. It’s the donations that these crews give to the local orphanages. It’s the warm handshake of the people you have worked with for years.

President Obama feels that the outsourcing of U.S. farmers’ and merchant mariners’ jobs is the most efficient way of using their tax dollars. Perhaps the bags of grain will still be stamped, “ USAID, From the American People,” but it will no longer be personal. For the U.S. farmers and merchant mariners, it will be, though. They’ll be looking for jobs.