Mar 06 2019
Mississippi Witness Describes Maritime Infrastructure and Workforce Needs to National Audience
WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today convened the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for a hearing titled, “The State of the American Maritime Industry.” The hearing featured testimony from Austin Golding, who is President of Golding Barge Line in Vicksburg. Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, Jr., also attended the hearing.
In his opening statement, Wicker noted the importance of a thriving domestic maritime industry to the U.S. economy and national security.
“The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – better known as the Jones Act – requires that vessels transporting goods between two U.S. points be American-built, owned, crewed, and flagged. Today, over 41,000 Jones Act-qualified vessels operate in the domestic trades. Properly enforcing the Jones Act is important for economic and national security,” Wicker said.
Wicker also urged the U.S. maritime industry to be more internationally competitive to guarantee the industry’s future viability.
“This is troubling from a national security perspective because sufficient U.S.-flagged ships and mariners must be available to meet national defense requirements,” Wicker said.
In his questions to the witnesses, Wicker asked Golding to elaborate on the infrastructure problems facing the U.S. maritime industry.
“Many of the locks and dams that we transit through are well beyond their useful life,” Golding said. “As we testified here today, the infrastructure we have is outdated and in need of investment.”
Golding pointed to the Industrial Canal Lock in New Orleans as an example of a target for improvement, noting the structure is nearly 100 years old.
“It is a vital inlet and outlet for the east side of the lower Gulf States of the country, including the port of Mobile and the entry to the Tenn-Tom Waterway,” Golding said. “Many of these gateways have massive delays associated with them, and as a result, that cost gets passed along to the consumer.”
In his opening statement, Golding said investments in America’s waterways infrastructure were among the best investments in bulk commerce the U.S. could make.
Wicker also asked Golding to expand upon the huge earning potential for employees in the maritime industry. Golding noted that entry-level deckhands start at $30,000 a year and can be eligible for promotion within a year or two to positions making $70,000 a year. Pilots, who have a minimum of five to eight years of experience, can make upwards of $130,000 a year before their 30th birthday.
“This type of work does come at a high compensation…These men are talented, these men and women are credentialed, these men and women sacrifice a lot to do this work,” Golding said.
Workforce development is another critical component of sustaining a domestic maritime industry. Golding’s company has partnered with Hinds Community College to develop a deckhand training program that simulates life on a boat. Golding said that his company had employed 312 graduates of this program since its inception.
The other witnesses at today’s hearing included:
- Mr. Matthew Woodruff, President of the American Maritime Partnership;
- Mr. Thomas Allegretti, President of the American Waterways Operators;
- Mr. Matthew Paxton, President of the Shipbuilders Council of America; and
- Ms. Berit Eriksson, Andrew Furuseth School of Seamanship/Sailor’s Union of the Pacific.