Hearing: 'The Status of the Merchant Marine'
Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation are scheduled to hold a hearing today on “The Status of the Merchant Marine”. Below are Hunter’s opening remarks.
The Subcommittee is meeting today to review issues impacting the U.S. merchant marine, the important role it plays in our economy and national security, and ways we can work together to strengthen and expand the merchant marine.
The U.S. maritime industry currently employs more than 260,000 Americans, providing nearly $29 billion in annual wages. There are more than 40,000 commercial vessels currently flying the American flag. The vast majority of these vessels are engaged in domestic commerce, moving over 100 million passengers and $400 billion worth of goods between ports in the U.S. on an annual basis. Each year, the U.S. maritime industry accounts for over $100 billion in economic output.
Beyond the important contributions to our economy, a healthy merchant marine is vital to our national security. Throughout our history, our nation has relied on U.S. flagged commercial vessels crewed by American Merchant Mariners to carry troops, weapons, and supplies to the battlefield. During Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, U.S. flagged commercial vessels transported 63 percent of all military cargos moved to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Unfortunately, over the last 35 years, the number of U.S. flagged vessels sailing in the international trade has dropped from 850 to less than 90. Less than two percent of the world’s tonnage now moves on U.S. flagged vessels. In the same period, we have lost over 300 shipyards and thousands of jobs for American mariners. For the sake of our national and economic security, we need to reverse this trend.
We cannot rely on foreign vessels and crews to provide for our national security. It is critical that we maintain a robust fleet of U.S. flagged vessels to carry critical supplies to the battlefield, a large cadre of skilled American mariners to man those vessels, and a strong shipyard industrial base to ensure we have the capability to build and replenish our naval forces in times of war.
I know the new Maritime Administrator is hard at work on a national maritime strategy that will hopefully include recommendations to strengthen the merchant marine. As soon as the strategy is complete, I look forward to calling him before the Subcommittee to present it. In the meantime, representatives of maritime industry and labor have been working on a similar proposal at the request of Ranking Member Garamendi and myself. I look forward to hearing about that proposal today, as well as other recommendations our witnesses may have.
If we want to grow our economy and remain a world power capable of defending ourselves and our allies, we must work together to strengthen our merchant marine. I thank the witnesses for appearing today and look forward to working with them.