US maritime strategy: A time for new beginnings

The imperative for a holistic United States maritime strategy has never been greater. The National Strategy for the Marine Transportation System was published in July 2008, by the previous administration. The White House, the Congress, and the maritime industry should collectively and collaboratively address the ever more pressing need for a national maritime strategy and pass long-overdue legislation to reinvigorate the maritime industry. Key areas include domestic and international commerce, maritime security, marine environmental policy, workforce development, maritime education and training funding, and strengthening our American merchant marine.

All of these intersect with actions, which must also be taken to ensure the strength of our entire transportation industry across intermodal networks, so that we generate the right capability through balanced, long-term investment in infrastructure, technology, the environment, and education. With planned and focused effort, we will generate capability, and while doing so, promote short and long term employment opportunities across various industries, benefiting the economic vitality of the nation and extending positive second and third-order effects, including increased tax revenues.

Working closely with US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Marine Administration (MARAD), a high-level working group should be convened from a broad cross section of individuals such as key members of Congress, leaders from the US maritime industry, labor, US Deparments of Defense (DOD) and Homeland Security, as well other industry experts and educators to develop maritime strategy, policy with executable action plans, and legislation. The Committee on the Marine Transportation System should be widened to include stakeholders from outside of the government and so serve as a central board for the long-term development and oversight of a full-scale effort.

The Jones Act must also be shored-up to properly support our domestic maritime industry – all essential components of national security and capability.

90% of global commerce moves by sea. The sufficiency of the mariner pool to support a large-scale activation of DOD and DOT sealift fleet depends on the health and size of the US-flagged commercial fleet. History has repeatedly proven it is in the best interest of the US to maintain and support a strong active, competitive, and militaruseful, privately- owned US flag merchant marine. Sealift is the primary means for deploying most of the combat equipment and sustainment for ground forces.

More than 40,000 American vessels of various types, built in American shipyards and crewed by American mariners, operate in US waters in different segments of the industry such as offshore, coastal, inland, and western rivers. The Jones Act results in nearly 500,000 jobs, US$29 billion in labor compensation, and more than $100 billion in annual economic output, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Transportation Institute.

The privately owned and operated US merchant marine is responsible for one-third of the shipbuilding industry’s activities. The Jones Act ensures that our nation maintains a shipbuilding and repair industry that directly supports over 28,000 jobs in the United States and is capable of building ships domestically for national defense.

We live in uncertain times. In our many US ports and miles of inland rivers and waterways, as well as in the global commons, our merchant mariners are truly a first line of defense, not only transporting economically essential goods and services, but acting as the watchful eyes and ears of security in these vital areas.

Environmental standards, liability, safety, and enforcement are improved by having American-owned vessels and US citizen-crews responsible for safely delivering the goods along our nation’s waterways.

Our hope for the future lies in ensuring that the White House will, with the support of the new team at DOT and MARAD, immediately work for creation and implementation of this historic maritime planning team. It is up to us to encourage Congress to support and work ever more closely with leaders of the American maritime industry to create “THE” comprehensive maritime strategy and pass legislation that will not only support, but also spur further growth in our industry The time to act is now. OE

Rear Admiral (ret.) Wendi B. Carpenter is president of SUNY Maritime College in Bronx, New York. She is a 30-year Navy veteran, having previously served as the commander of the Navy’s Warfare Development Command. In 2005, Carpenter became the Navy’s first woman aviator promoted to the rank of admiral.


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