WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today convened the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for a hearing titled, “The State of the American Maritime Industry.” The hearing focused on the current state of the domestic maritime industry in anticipation of the fiscal year 2020 budget request and discussed priorities for the Coast Guard and Maritime Administration reauthorization bills.
Excerpt from Chairman Wicker’s opening statement, as delivered, below:
The economic and national security of our country depends on a healthy maritime industry. Indeed, our country’s independence can be tied to the success of private colonial ships and merchant seamen that were authorized by General Washington to prevent British ships from delivering arms and ammunition.
Today, maritime freight transportation supports about $4.6 trillion in annual economic activity and the maritime industry supports 650,000 U.S. jobs. According to the Transportation Institute, 22,500 jobs in Washington State and 13,400 jobs in Mississippi are dependent on various elements of the American maritime industry.
Over 1.3 billion metric tons of waterborne merchandise is imported to, and exported from, the United States each year, and almost that much cargo is carried on the 25,000 miles of inland waterways.
Equally important to the economic benefits, a strong domestic maritime industry is essential to national security.
DOD relies heavily on U.S.-flagged commercial vessels and civilian mariners to meet its sealift requirements. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration are critical components to all of our defense and maritime functions and the committee will be working to reauthorize these agencies.
Federal law supports a strong domestic maritime industry. Notably, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – better known as the Jones Act – requires that vessels transporting goods between two U.S. points be American-built, owned, crewed, and flagged.
Today, over 41,000 Jones Act-qualified vessels operate in the domestic trades. Properly enforcing the Jones Act is important for economic and national security.
I recently sent a letter to the President – along with several colleagues on this committee – to express support for the Jones Act and to encourage the administration to convene a meeting of all stakeholders to discuss how the domestic maritime industry can meet new demands and serve new markets.
The American shipbuilding industrial base is capable of building the vessels necessary to carry the nation’s abundant energy resources – such as LNG and other fossil fuels – anywhere in the world.
Becoming more internationally competitive is important to secure the industry’s future. Currently, there are only 81 U.S.-flagged ships operating exclusively in international trade, carrying less than two percent of the nation’s annual foreign trade.
This is troubling from a national security perspective because sufficient U.S.-flagged ships and mariners must be available to meet national defense requirements.