The Honorable James Mattis, Secretary, Department of Defense (June 2018):

“As small as our Merchant Marine may be today, it is absolutely essential. It’s in every war plan that I review, I guarantee you.  Because you’re going to be the fourth arm of the defense. You’re going to sustain our allies and fuel our ships and ferry our warriors.”


Rear Admiral Dee Mewbourne, Commander, Military Sealift Command (2018):

“I can assure you that U.S. Mariners will be there, reliably and bravely manning our ships – even if our seas become a battlefield.   United we sail.”


Rear Admiral Thomas Shannon, Commander, Military Sealift Command (2016):

“[We] must be mindful that the execution of our national military strategy requires a robust U.S.-flag merchant marine, a strong surge sealift capability, and a deep pool of merchant mariners to literally carry our nation to war. . . Contracting out our ability to carry our nation’s combat power with foreign flag fleets is simply not an option.  So let us all put our oar in the water, and pull together to sustain a viable U.S.-flag merchant marine.”



It is imperative that Congress and the Administration take action to revitalize the U.S.-flag merchant marine, to put Americans back to work aboard U.S.-flag vessels and to ensure that our country has the U.S.-flag commercial sealift capability and American mariners needed to support the Department of Defense and American troops whenever and wherever needed.


The major issue threatening our industry’s ability to continue to meet strategic sealift requirements is the growing shortfall in the number of qualified U.S. citizen mariners to crew the government and privately-owned vessels used by the Department of Defense.  In March 2015, General Paul Selva, then-Commander, United States Transportation Command, told Congress that due to the “reduction in government impelled cargoes due to the drawdown in Afghanistan and reductions in food aid . . . the mariner base is at a point where future reductions in U.S.-flag capacity puts our ability to fully activate, deploy and sustain forces at increased risk.”

Similarly, at Congressional hearings held in 2018, Admiral Mark Buzby, Administrator, United States Maritime Administration, warned that there is “an estimated shortfall of 1,800 qualified mariners in the event of a full, prolonged mobilization . . . ”

This dangerous decline in the American maritime manpower pool must be reversed.  We must put American mariners qualified to meet Department of Defense requirements to work aboard U.S.-flag commercial vessels.  Otherwise, we will be handing over to foreign flag vessels and their foreign citizen crews the security of our nation and the safety of American troops deployed overseas.  As history has proven, American mariners have never failed to sail into harm’s way.  There is no guarantee – no reason to believe – foreign crews will do the same.  Congress and the Administration must focus on ways to stop the further loss of U.S.-flag vessels and the resultant outsourcing of American maritime jobs, and to increase the number of vessels operating under the U.S.-flag in order to create more maritime job opportunities for Americans.

To this end, we believe the following represent some of the important areas in which Congress and the Administration should act in order to demonstrate support for the U.S.-flag merchant marine as a critical component of our nation’s economic and military security, and to begin to revitalize the U.S.-flag merchant marine to preserve and create jobs for American merchant mariners.


MARITIME SECURITY PROGRAM:  The Maritime Security Program (MSP) and its fleet of 60 privately-owned militarily-useful U.S.-flag commercial vessels and their U.S. citizen crews form the basis of America’s commercial sealift capability.  As history has proven, American mariners never fail to sail into harm’s way when needed by the United States. In fact, the choice for our Nation is simple: entrust the security of our Nation and the safety of American troops deployed around the world to United States-flag vessels and United States citizen crews, or instead hope that foreign flag, foreign crewed vessels will protect the safety of American troops.   We ask all Members of Congress to support the annual funding levels for the Maritime Security Program as authorized by Congress ($300 million in FY’21).

CARGO PREFERENCE: U.S.-flag cargo preference shipping requirements mandate that a percentage of U.S. taxpayer financed exports and imports be transported on privately-owned U.S.-flag commercial vessels, to the degree such vessels are available at fair and reasonable rates.  It is important to understand that every U.S.-flag vessel – whether it has been selected to participate in the Maritime Security Program or not – has important military utility by providing the employment base necessary to maintain the cadre of American merchant mariners needed by the Department of Defense.  The full implementation of the cargo preference requirements to transport U.S. government cargoes helps guarantee that American maritime jobs will not be outsourced to the benefit of foreign maritime workers and that the dangerous decline in the number of available American merchant mariners will not worsen. We ask all Members of Congress to ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars are used to Ship American and that all Federal shipper agencies fully comply with the spirit and the letter of existing U.S.-flag cargo preference shipping requirements.

JONES ACT: The Jones Act, a cornerstone of American maritime policy, requires that vessels engaged in U.S. domestic commerce are owned and crewed by Americans and built in U.S. shipyards.  The domestic American maritime industry strengthens U.S. national security at zero cost to the federal government.  The domestic maritime fleet provides capacity and manpower that the armed forces can draw upon to support U.S. military operations.  American ships, crews to man them, ship construction and repair yards, intermodal equipment, terminals, cargo tracking systems, and other infrastructure are available to the U.S. military at a moment’s notice in times of war, national emergency, or even in peacetime. The 40,000 Jones Act vessels operating in the domestic trades support nearly 650,000 American jobs and $150 billion in annual economic impact.  An impressive five indirect jobs are created for every one direct maritime job, which results in more than $41 billion in labor compensation.  The industry moves a billion tons of cargo every year, which plays an important role in relieving congestion on the nation’s crowded roads and railways. The oceangoing vessels engaged in the Jones Act trades provide important employment opportunities for American mariners who are qualified to serve on vessels needed by the Department of Defense, thereby contributing to the maritime manpower pool. We ask all Members of Congress to affirm their support for this critically important national maritime policy and to oppose legislative efforts to repeal all or part of the Jones Act.

Promotion of a US-flag Tanker Fleet: The Fiscal Year 2020 defense authorization legislation contains language that paves the way for the development and growth of a U.S.-flag tanker fleet.  The language requires  the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation, to submit to the appropriate Committees of Congress a report on the capabilities of the United States to maintain adequate United States-flagged fuel tanker vessel capacity to support the full range of anticipated military operations from 2020 through 2030.  Among other things, the report is to include an assessment  of the risk to military objectives due to reliance on foreign-flagged tanker vessels and a description and assessment of options to address these  gaps, including the establishment of a program for United States-flagged fuel tanker vessels modeled on the Maritime Security Program. We ask all Members of Congress to ensure that this report is in fact prepared and submitted to Congress as required so that Congress can take the steps necessary to develop a U.S.-flag U.S. citizen crewed tanker fleet needed to meet national security requirements.

ENERGY EXPORTS: Bipartisan legislation has been introduced that would reserve a portion of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and crude oil exports from the United States for vessels built in the United States and operated under the U.S.-flag. Specifically, the legislation (HR 3829 by Congressman John Garamendi and S 2167 by Senator Roger Wicker) would require that U.S.-built U.S.-flag vessels transport 15 percent of LNG exports by 2041 and 10 percent of crude oil exports by 2033. It is estimated that the enactment of this legislation would result in the construction in the United States of approximately 28 LNG vessels by 2041 and 12 crude oil tankers by 2033. Today, virtually no exports of LNG and crude oil are carried on U.S.-flag vessels. The enactment of this legislation will not only increase the number of vessels operating under the United States-flag but the number of seagoing jobs available to American merchant mariners, helping to significantly decrease the current maritime manpower shortage. We ask all Members of Congress to cosponsor and support this legislation in the 116th Congress.

MARINE HIGHWAY: Developing a vibrant U.S.-flag marine highway system can help alleviate congestion on our roads and railways and provide an important economic stimulus to smaller and underutilized port regions, creating thousands of jobs in the ship construction and related service and supply industries, for American mariners working aboard these vessels, and for longshoremen and other shoreside employees engaged in the handling, loading and unloading of cargo. Programs to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure should recognize that U.S. coastal waterways are readily available to reduce the burden of moving cargo by roadways and rail. Bipartisan legislation (HR 5351) has been introduced by Congressmen Brian Higgins and Mike Doyle that would facilitate the development of a marine highway system by eliminating the unfair double taxation of vessels operating in the domestic trades.  We ask all Members of Congress to cosponsor and support this legislation and to vigorously promote and include the development of a national Marine Highway System as part of their plans to enact and implement an infrastructure program.

NATIONAL SECURITY MULTI-MISSION VESSEL PROGRAM (NSMV): The NSMV Program will recapitalize the aging fleet of training ships at America’s State Maritime Academies (SMAs).  These vessels will be federal assets owned by the U.S. Maritime Administration and operated, maintained, and crewed by the SMAs.  The training ships are the primary means for cadets to learn, train and earn required sea time for a U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner license.  Above and beyond the importance of these vessels as training ships, these federal assets will be used in times of national emergency and for humanitarian relief. In fact, current SMA training ships were used to house FEMA workers after Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. The NSMVs are being designed with enhanced emergency relief capabilities.  With support from the administration, funding totaling $900 million has been approved to date by Congress for three new NSMVs.  Full fleet replacement would require two additional NSMVs.  We ask all Members of Congress to support the NSMV Program at its authorized level of $300 million in FY’21.