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Posted: November 13, 2012

Downsizing U.S. merchant marine undermines security

In an editorial published by Defense News, two former maritime administrators highlighted the crucial and cost-effective sealift service provided to the Department of Defense by the U.S. merchant marine and underscored the urgent need to reverse the recent rollback of the U.S.-flag cargo preference share of government impelled PL-480 cargoes.

"During times of war or national emergency, the U.S. government relies on the U.S. merchant marine and its public-private partnership with the Department of Defense to ensure there is adequate U.S.-controlled capacity to transport critical cargo anywhere in the world at any time," wrote retired Captain William Schubert, administrator of the U.S. Maritime Administration from 2001 to 2005, and retired Vice Adm. Albert Herberger, administrator of MARAD from 1993 to 1997.

"Most recently, U.S.-flag vessels safely and effectively carried more than 90 percent of military supplies for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan," they wrote. "Without the citizen merchant mariners manning these ships, the U.S. would be forced to depend on politically unreliable foreign ships and foreign crews to carry some of its most important cargoes.

"As former administrators of the U.S. Maritime Administration, we have experienced firsthand how vital the U.S. merchant marine is to national defense," they wrote. "We were therefore very disappointed to see that the final version of the 2012 Surface Transportation Act - without open discussion or debate - contained a provision that undermines the U.S. merchant marine, jeopardizing national security and eliminating thousands of American jobs in the process.

"The U.S. merchant marine is critical not only because it is a trustworthy extension of U.S. military capabilities, but also because it is cost-effective," they wrote. "In fact, MARAD has indicated that the Defense Department would need $13 billion in capital costs plus $1 billion in annual operating costs to replicate the sealift capacity that it obtains at a fraction of that price through the U.S. merchant marine.

"We understand that congressional leaders must often make tough decisions. Reversing the cut to cargo preference and preserving the U.S. merchant marine is not one of them.

"The United States loses far more than it gains from the loss of sealift capability caused by the 2012 Surface Transportation Act," they wrote. "The United States needs a vibrant U.S. merchant marine and cannot afford to lose the sealift capability upon which so much depends. The cut to cargo preference should be reversed."

The complete article is available online.