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Posted: May 19, 2014

Maritime industry salutes Congressman Hunter

Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) received the 2014 Salute to Congress Award May 8 from the International Propeller Club of the United States in recognition of his strong and steady support of the American maritime industry.

As the chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation and a member of the Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives, Rep. Hunter has rallied and sustained bi-partisan backing for the U.S. merchant marine and American maritime industry as a whole, and has frequently promoted the important roles of the U.S.-flag fleet in national security, defense and commerce.

During the award ceremony in Arlington, Va., Rep. Hunter opened his remarks on the industry with the statement: "American maritime matters." He followed with a detailed address on how and why, describing the challenges faced by the maritime industry and the importance of maintaining and building its strength.

"Every single person in this room tonight is committed to ensuring that America stays true to its history, and maintains a strong domestic and international fleet," Rep. Hunter said. "We have struggles ahead."

These include an absence of understanding among the public and in the halls of Congress about why key aspects of U.S. maritime policy are important, or in many cases, what they are. The Jones Act and U.S. cargo preference laws remain targets of ill-informed criticism and misguided attacks.

"It is a fight ... we have to take to the rest of Congress and the people who do not know a lot about these things," Rep. Hunter said. "While a strong maritime sector is important to our economy, a strong maritime industry - with U.S.-flag vessels, qualified merchant mariners and a strong shipbuilding base - is essential to our national security."

Citing the long-term demise of commercial and military shipbuilding capabilities in Great Britain, Rep. Hunter warned of the danger of allowing the same thing to happen in the United States. "We cannot make this mistake," he said.

Elected in 2008 to his first term in the House of Representatives, Rep. Hunter was the first Marine Corps combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be elected to Congress. He served three combat tours overseas, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

"Over 90 percent of military cargoes moved to Iraq and Afghanistan were moved by U.S.-flag vessels crewed by American mariners," he said. "I am going to be willing to guess that we will need sealift again.

"And when it comes to the different ways in how you get to the war, things have not changed. You still have to get to the fight," Rep. Hunter said. "You have to move it over the ocean. You have to - there is no other way."

In addition to the need for and effectiveness of the U.S.-flag fleet, he addressed the commercial industry's role in improving military efficiency and providing significant cost savings.

"The range of threats around the world is expanding, and while we don't know how the next conflict will look, we will need sealift and U.S. merchant mariners to get there and naval combatant ships to help fight it," Rep. Hunter said. "Here is what is great about what your industry does, and the American shipbuilding industrial base: you are right now offsetting the cost of those Navy ships.

"You all are busy right now; it's a good thing," he said. "The LNG powered containerships being built at NASSCO ... are being built for the Jones Act trade. This type of commercial shipbuilding in our shipyards helps reduce overhead for the Navy. And we have tight defense budgets.

"Protecting our industrial base is what is going to save this nation in the end," he said. "It protects our warfighters and it protects our military capabilities and it is okay to want to protect what made this nation great."

Rep. Hunter pivoted to the ongoing effort by the administration and its congressional allies to radically restructure the Food for Peace program and replace shipments of U.S. food-aid onboard U.S. merchant vessels with cash transfers and the purchase of commodities from foreign producers. He highlighted the program's crucial role in supporting the U.S.-flag fleet in international trades and the job base for U.S. merchant mariners, who are needed to man military and government vessels in times of conflict and crisis.

"Again, people are failing to understand the nexus between our commercial maritime industry and how it underpins our national security," he said. "The ships and skilled merchant mariners, maintained because of cargo preference, allow our military to have an affordable sealift capability when they need it most: when they are called to defend this nation. If the Navy had to replace the sealift you provide, they couldn't. They don't have the billions and billions of dollars to maintain ships on standby for when they may need them. That will never happen.

"One more reason why it is so vital we keep it: the policies we have in place work, and the Jones Act, cargo preference, the Maritime Security Program and Title XI are examples of that."

Rep. Hunter closed by commenting on the need to establish a comprehensive national maritime strategy.

"We need to develop a strategy that looks to the future and finds new opportunities to expand our U.S.-flag fleet, both domestically and internationally," he said. "And, by doing so, we protect America's national security. And that is why American maritime matters."