In Hearing on Maritime Industry, Cantwell Goes to Bat for Mariners (not just the baseball team)

March 6, 2019

Today, at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the committee, called for strengthening the country’s maritime workforce through investment in infrastructure and the maritime economy.

“The United States maritime transportation system is critical to our nation’s economy and to our security,” Senator Cantwell said. “We must support our domestic maritime industry with a strong U.S. maritime workforce and make the investment in… mariners a key priority.”

In her remarks at the hearing, Cantwell highlighted the need for a nationwide strategy to invest in the maritime industry and provide the necessary resources to continue the growth of the maritime economy, both in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the country.

“We must also provide certainty for our workforce by developing a national maritime strategy that identifies the increase in the availability of U.S. ships to ensure mariners and qualified women are there to help with the challenges of increasing cargo and capacity,” Cantwell continued. “Whether it’s developing the workforce, focusing on infrastructure, supporting shipyards, supporting the Coast Guard, or new shipbuilding for the fishing sector, I know there is a lot that our committee can do to help this particular sector of the U.S. economy.”

At the hearing, Berit Eriksson of Seattle, the Workforce Development Director of the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific, also testified about the importance of a strong maritime workforce.

“In the past, advancing from entry level positions such as ordinary Seaman and Wiper was relatively simple by just accruing the appropriate sea time and taking a lifeboat and Able Seaman or Oiler test. This has now become a complicated and expensive journey even if you can find an entry level job on an American deep-sea vessel,” Eriksson said in her testimony.

Cantwell also continued her call for the United States to recognize its role as an Arctic nation and expand its icebreaker fleet. In the most recent Coast Guard reauthorization, Cantwell secured funds to recapitalize the Seattle-based Polar Star icebreaker. This year, Cantwell also helped secure $655 million to design and build the first Coast Guard polar icebreaker in more than four decades, as well as $20 million to begin planning a second icebreaker.

But in today’s hearing, Cantwell called for more investment in the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaker fleet.

“While we have secured the first heavy polar icebreaker funding in decades, I want us to authorize even more,” Cantwell said. “It’s imperative that our nation understands that we are an Artic nation. That this is an entirely new transportation path with many opportunities for us to forge new relationships. But to do that, we will have to have an icebreaking fleet.”

Senator Cantwell has long championed the maritime economy in Washington state and throughout the country. In 2015, she authored legislation to create a multi-modal freight grant program, which has invested millions of dollars in projects throughout Washington state since its creation. In 2018, Cantwell passed legislation to move forward critical harbor deepening projects at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma. She also helped to pass the bipartisan Coast Guard reauthorization bill, with provisions to benefit Washington state fishermen and protect the state’s coasts and waterways.