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.  In fact, since 2009, privately-owned U.S.-flag commercial vessels and their civilian U.S. citizen crews transported more than 90 percent of the sustainment cargo needed to support U.S. military operations and rebuilding programs in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Vessels enrolled in MSP – all of which are crewed by United States citizen civilian mariners – carried 99 percent of these cargoes.  We ask all Members of Congress to support the annual funding levels for this program as authorized by Congress ($300 million in FY’20) so that vessel operators can continue to upgrade and modernize their fleets of militarily-useful vessels and can continue to operate these vessels under the United States-flag with American mariners.

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.

It is important that U.S. taxpayer dollars are used to the fullest degree possible to not only Hire American and Buy American but also to Ship American.  We ask all Members of Congress to ensure 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, another 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.  According to a recent study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the Jones Act generates 500,000 high-quality American jobs, produces an economic output in the U.S. of more than $100 billion annually, and provides critical homeland security, economic and national security benefits to our nation.  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.

ENERGY EXPORTS: The Maritime Administration should take steps necessary to encourage American jobs aboard vessels transporting oil, liquefied natural gas, and other strategic commodities and energy resources from the United States, and ensure the operation of such vessels are under the United States-flag.  Legislation was introduced in the 115th Congress by Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) (HR 5893) and Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) (S. 2916) to phase-in U.S.-flag shipping requirements for U.S. energy exports.  We ask all Members of Congress to support similar legislation in the 116th Congress.

MARINE HIGHWAY: As Congress and the Administration proceed with the development of much-needed and long-overdue infrastructure legislation, it is important to recognize the numerous economic and environmental advantages that stem from the waterborne carriage of cargo along America’s coasts.  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.  We ask all Members of Congress and the Administration 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.


Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, United States Maritime Administrator, 2018

“The 60-ship commercial MSP fleet is solid, operating well, and has the militarily useful ships we’d need in a sealift and sustainment scenario . . . I am [however] concerned about the availability of a sufficient number of qualified mariners with the necessary endorsements to operate large ships (unlimited horsepower and unlimited tonnage) and to sustain a prolonged sealift mobilization beyond the first four to six months.  We need a larger peacetime employment base to ensure we have the manpower during times of crisis.”