Mar 11 2019
The Economic and National Security of our Country Depends on Maritime Resources
The United States has a distinguished history of using our abundant maritime resources to expand commerce and protect our country. Going back to the American Revolution, our independence can be tied to the success of a strong maritime industry. General Washington authorized private colonial ships and merchant seamen to prevent British ships from delivering arms and ammunition.
Today maritime freight transportation drives about $4.6 trillion in annual economic activity, and the maritime industry supports 650,000 American jobs. According to the Transportation Institute, more than 13,000 jobs in Mississippi are dependent on various elements of the American maritime industry.
Maritime Jobs and Infrastructure
As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, I recently convened a hearing to explore the state of this vital industry. Austin Golding, President of Golding Barge Line in Vicksburg, was among the witnesses who shared the importance of this industry and the need for infrastructure improvements on our waterways.
Golding Barge Line is a family-owned small business with 225 employees. The company has partnered with Hinds Community College to recruit and train new employees with the skills needed for a career in the maritime industry. These high-paying jobs involve hard work and expertise in dangerous and demanding conditions.
Improving our maritime infrastructure is one way to support these jobs and a growing economy. During his opening statement Golding said that investments in new locks and dams are among the best investments in commerce the U.S. could make.
Over 1.3 billion metric tons of waterborne merchandise are imported to and exported from the United States each year. Nearly as much cargo is carried on our country’s 25,000 miles of inland waterways. Moving freight along these “marine highways” is cost-effective, safe, and reduces congestion on our roads. Dilapidated locks and dams cause shipping delays, which increase the final cost of a product.
‘Jones Act’ Protects American Security
Maintaining the “Merchant Marine Act of 1920,” better known as the “Jones Act,” is another critical tool to support America’s ships and maritime jobs. The law requires that vessels transporting goods between two U.S. points be American-built, owned, crewed, and flagged. In doing so, the “Jones Act” ensures a vibrant maritime and shipbuilding base, which also supports our national security. The Department of Defense depends heavily on U.S.-flagged commercial vessels and civilian mariners to meet its sealift transportation requirements.
The U.S. Maritime Administration estimates a shortfall of 1,800 qualified mariners needed to sustain a prolonged military sealift mobilization. The Trump Administration took action this week to bridge this gap and help military veterans to fill these high-skilled and high-paying jobs. The President issued a declaration to waive government-issued licensing fees and give credit for military training toward merchant mariner certification. These actions not only streamline the process but also could save veterans tens of thousands of dollars in fees and class tuition.
The economic and national security interests of our country depend on our maritime industry. In fact, a strong merchant marine, shipbuilding, and maritime industrial base are the marks of a great world power. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure America’s maritime industry has a vibrant future.