The United States owes much to ur Merchant Mariners. In the
late 16th century, Merchant Mariners
conveyed and sustained the
colonists that created our new
nation. U.S. Merchant Mariners later
helped American explorers navigate
our inland and coastal waterways,
fueling the westward expansion that made us a robust
republic. Merchant Mariners supported the domestic
trade and international commerce that grew America’s
first ports into America’s largest cities, and established our
nation as a global economic force.
Today, Americans rely on a wide range of Merchant
Mariner services — from piloting the barge tows that
strengthen our domestic energy supply chain, to crewing the commercial vessels that allow for overseas projection and sustainment of our armed forces.
The United States became a superpower — thanks
in large part to U.S. Merchant Mariners — and if we
wish to remain a superpower in today’s ever-changing
world, we must maintain a healthy pool of trained,
educated and licensed U.S. Merchant Mariners.
But that is easier said than done.
These days, our nation has surging needs for mariners.
Job growth is stemming from offshore oil and gas production, increasing domestic and international trade, and a
rising number of officers and engineers approaching
retirement. Despite these growing demands on the
mariner workforce, several trends are contributing to an
emerging shortage of skilled U.S. Merchant Mariners.
The general public is largely unfamiliar with the
maritime industry, and it continues to be a challenge to
attract younger generations to maritime professions. In
addition, life as a Merchant Mariner means extended
time at sea, making it difficult to support family activities or be present for any other myriad events that life
brings. As a result, we find that a considerable number
of mariners ages 28 to 35 are propelled to change
careers or seek shore-side employment.
Complicating matters is the fact that cargoes available to U.S.-flag vessels are shrinking, and vessels are
being retired or laid up, dissolving billets and reducing
the number of employment opportunities for U.S.
Merchant Mariners. From January 2010 to today, the
U.S.-flag fleet has experienced a net loss of 67 vessels,
eliminating approximately 2,900 jobs for U.S.
Merchant Mariners. This type of employment instability is forcing many trained and experienced U.S.
Merchant Mariners to abandon our industry in order to
look for stable positions in other fields.
The precarious state of the Merchant Mariner pool
should not be a surprise to most Seapower magazine
readers. In fact, I am certain that the vast majority of
our industry is aware of this pressing concern. Be that
as it may, much of the interest and discussion surrounding this issue has been limited to the effects of a
Merchant Mariner shortage on our industry, when the
condition of the mariner pool affects so much more.
A future deficit of U.S. Merchant Mariners has the
potential to limit both America’s security and economy.
Throughout our nation’s history, U.S. Merchant Fleet
vessels have carried critical supplies and equipment to
our troops overseas. U.S.-flag vessels carried over 90 percent of Department of Defense waterborne cargoes for the
conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with today’s rising
tide of global conflicts, our continued need for a strong,
militarily useful U.S.-flag fleet should be abundantly clear.
Yet we all know that a strong U.S.-flag fleet cannot
be realized without the licensed and proficient
mariners who sail in support of our vital national operations and missions. It is only through the services of
U.S. Merchant Mariners that our nation can continue
to project and sustain our troops, support our allies,
and defend freedom and democracy throughout the
world. If we do not maintain sufficient numbers of
qualified and experienced mariners, we will be saying
“goodbye” to these services, compromising the future
of our sealift and global-projection capabilities, and
putting America at risk.
America Needs Mariners
A POINT OF VIEW by PAUL N. “CHIP” JAENICHEN, Maritime Administrator