Congress in 1933 declared May 22 National
Maritime Day to mark the first successful
crossing of the Atlantic of a vessel using
steam propulsion. It has become a celebration
and commemoration of the U.S. Merchant
Marine’s role in ensuring the nation’s secu-
rity and economic prosperity in peacetime and in war.
The United States continues to rely on our civilian mariners to take “our
warfighters, equipment and supplies whenever and wherever they need to go,”
Maritime Administration (MARAD) Executive Director Joel Szabat told an audience during an April 3 panel discussion at the 2017 Sea-Air-Space Exposition.
But the future ability of the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine to respond to a
major national security sealift demand is being threatened by a decrease in
the number of available ships, a shortage of qualified mariners and a fleet
of cargo ships with an average age of 39 years.
“As of today,” Szabat said, “there are enough vessels to meet national
security needs. But the fleet of large commercial vessels declined substan-
tially. The international fleet has shrunk by a quarter since 2012. The U.S.
Merchant Marine no longer employs enough qualified American mariners
to sustain a full sealift for our warfighters.”
He explained that three programs support the Merchant Marine. The
Jones Act requires domestic waterborne trade be carried on U.S.-constructed,
U.S.-owned and U.S.-crewed ships, thereby supporting U.S. shipyards and
their workforce in times of peace. The Maritime Security Program and Cargo
Preference support those U.S. ships working in international trade.
When the need for military sealift arises, he said, “we rely primarily on
the 97 large ships in the domestic fleet and the 81 international ships to
employ enough mariners to activate and sustain a sealift.” That requires
1,300 mariners to be available within 96 hours to activate the federal ships.
Gen. Darren W. McDew, head of U.S. Transportation Command, told
Seapower on April 4 that while the immediate sealift needs can be met, sustaining
the fight over a period of time will be difficult. MARAD has said the nation is
on the “ragged edge” of having an adequate number of qualified mariners.
“If they’re concerned,” he said, “I’m concerned.”
To ensure our maritime community grows stronger, we must support
the Jones Act, Cargo Preference and the Maritime Security Program.
Cari B. Thomas
EDITOR IN CHIEF
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We Need Mariners
BY AMY L. WITTMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF
THE OFFICIAL PUBLICATION OF THE
NAVY LEAGUE OF THE UNITED STATES
Volume 60, Number 4, May 2017