Seafarers: Bipartisan coalition pushing new U.S.-flag maritime laws

WASHINGTON (PAI)—A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in both houses of Congress is pushing new U.S.-flag maritime legislation to take advantage of the new U.S. oil export boom by encouraging construction of U.S.-made U.S.-flagged tankers to carry the petroleum.

 

And the measure, HR5893, may also soon draw support from the GOP Trump administration, Seafarers Log’s stories imply. A companion bill, S2916, was dropped in the hopper, too.

 

The measure, introduced on National Maritime Day by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., ranking Democrat on the House Coast Guard and Maritime Subcommittee, drew accolades from both parties and from several unions: The Seafarers, the Steelworkers, the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association and the Masters, Mates & Pilots. Some business groups also back the legislation.

 

Panel chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J. – an Electrical Worker – and Senate Seapower Subcommittee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., back the bills. The measures would require U.S.-built and U.S.-flagged ships carry a specific percentage of U.S. crude oil and liquefied natural gas exports. No hearings have been scheduled yet on the legislation.

 

If approved by Congress and signed by Trump, the measures would put U.S. shipyards, and their unionized mariners, to work building an estimated 50 such oil-LNG carriers, sponsors said. They said it would produce thousands of new maritime jobs, but had no specific numbers.

 

The tankers would significantly expand the current U.S.-flagged maritime fleet, now crewed by Seafarers, MEBA members and MM&P officers. The fleet, which is also vital for transporting bulk munitions, tanks and other military goods to war zones, is now down to about 80 ships, Hunter said.

 

Seafarers Vice President Augie Tellez told the Maritime Day press conference that past

political rhetoric in favor of the U.S. merchant marine hasn’t been matched by political performance. Meanwhile, U.S. competitors on the high seas, notably China, build ships apace.

 

“We languish on the vine, operating with an international fleet that’s been reduced to nothing short of a disgrace,” Tellez said. “And it gets even worse: We now have senior folks – civilian and in uniform – questioning whether we” civilian merchant mariners “will go in harm’s way” to ship goods, including oil and LNG, to the military. The past record of the merchant marine disproves that, he said.

 

U.S. shipbuilding is “vital to our national security,” said Garamendi. “Congress has neglected our maritime industry for too long, to the point where we’re several dozen ships and 1,800 mariners short of what’s needed to guarantee sufficient sealift in times of crisis.”

 

“This seeks to turn the ship around by taking advantage of” the “energy export boom to bring back American shipbuilding, shipyard and mariner jobs rather than continuing to outsource them.”

 

The legislation may pick up administration support. In a separate event, Trump Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao lauded the U.S. merchant marine, its ships and its workers. “One thing remains constant: The absolutely critical role U.S.-flag merchant marine vessels play in our economic and national security,” she told a ceremony at DOT headquarters. “We thank you for performing this vital service so efficiently and effectively for the Navy, for our country and for taxpayers as well.”

Source: PAI