Marine Transportation System

Archive for September 7th, 2010|Daily archive page

Raising the U.S.-Flag

In Marine Highway, MTS Policy, Surface Transportation Policy on September 7, 2010 at 11:13 pm

The lead on the June 21st American Shipper story caught the eye.  The chair of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation “says government programs aimed at helping the U.S.-flag fleet ply foreign trades have been a failure.”

“We have frankly struggled to find the policy that would truly improve and strengthen the U.S. marine transportation system…that would ensure we continue to have a robust merchant marine,” said Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in a private session with the Federal Maritime Commission.

On July 20th Chairman Cummings held a hearing on the subject.   He repeated his concerns about the state of the American industry in international trade and told MARAD Administrator David Matsuda that something should be done.

Some of the witnesses focused their testimony on the existing U.S.-flag programs—the Maritime Security Program (MSP) and the cargo preference program.

Administrator Matsuda cited numbers that summarize the industry’s decline.  He noted that the once substantial U.S. merchant fleet “created many of the technological innovations now used by the rest of the world” then stated this depressing fact:  “However, U.S. maritime programs have not been successful in inducing or even maintaining capacity within the Nation’s domestic merchant marine. “

Chairman Cummings told Matsuda, “We…should work to formulate a meaningful U.S. maritime policy that will revitalize our merchant marine and expand the percent of U.S. trade carried in U.S. ships.”  He wanted the MARAD to return with some ideas.

Given how long it is taking USDOT to unveil long overdue surface transportation recommendations–in part due to the White House aversion to talking revenue measures–one might imagine the subcommittee chairman waiting a little while for a new administration maritime initiative.

Here’s an idea.  Suggest to Congress that the place to start revitalizing the U.S. merchant marine is here in U.S. waters.  Rather than try to formulate a new policy by which U.S.-flag shipping can be competitive in the Asian trade, we should develop an ambitious initiative for the nascent and inadequately resourced American Marine Highway program here at home.

It is good to hear Chairman Cummings raise his concerns.  Whatever can be done to invigorate the U.S.-flag sector is worth considering.  It certainly is long overdue.

I will borrow words used by former Secretary Norman Mineta in a December 2007 speech about the broader U.S. maritime sector.  “Compared to the resources and focus that we have devoted to surface transportation and aviation,” Mineta said after having left the cabinet office, “I believe we must quickly and dramatically increase our attention, our funding, and our national purpose with respect to maritime issues.”

If there is an obvious opportunity to revitalize the maritime sector–one of this country’s earliest industries–it is in the short sea market, primarily the Jones Act trade, as part of a smart energy/environment/transportation policy framework.  If there is a way to give new life to the merchant fleet and bring U.S. shipyards to produce vessels for a new, greener generation it is through an expanded domestic market and a policy that takes the maritime sector half as seriously as Washington has taken other sectors of the economy.  Many of us would settle for half.   Pbea