American Maritime Unions Slam Proposal to Operate US-Flag Vessels with

I was a little surprised to not see any topic or discussion on this article/report (unless I missed it).

It took a while to get through the 50 page report, and then I looked back at the Union response. I won’t blame the gCaptain article for not covering much other than the Union reply, but it appears to me that the Union presidents didn’t actually read the report before writing their knee-jerk all-change-is-bad reply.

It is a gross oversimplification to just call the report just a proposal for a second registry or a proposal to operate US ships with foreign crews. The Union response ends with "We instead urge Congress and the Administration to work with us to strengthen and expand the United States-flag fleet in order to create jobs for America’s maritime workforce and to further enhance America’s economic, homeland and military security.” However if they’d actually read it they would see that’s exactly what is proposed. The second registry is partly offered as a solution to the problem that we don’t even have enough US mariners to fully man the current fleet, so if we triple its size we won’t be able to man that either.

The author also proposes that if a second registry were created that all military and preference cargo would be excluded from ships in that registry.

Moreover, the proposal recommends increasing primary-registry US flagged/crewed/ vessels at a steady rate so as to provide stability in order book and bring down cost per vessel. And further, the only companies that could bring vessels in the suggested second registry would be current US ship operators. The incentive in building the former is access to the latter.

I’m not saying the report is perfect or feasible, but the response from the unions is rather shortsighted. There are interesting bits of info and considerations in there, along with some assumptions that I disagree with. But the Unions claim (through either their ignorance or omission) that “the proposal fails to identify solutions that would increase or incentivize the carriage of cargoes by U.S.-flag, U.S.-crewed vessels,” and at the same time I’ve seen no such proposal from the Unions.

It amazes me that all of the major unions only seem to get on the same page when they want to complain about something, never when it means actually supporting a strong unified US Merchant Marine.

That proposal has already been discussed here in depth.

Where? It was published two weeks ago. Did you actually read it or are also just assuming it is the same as ones previously proposed? (It’s not).

Correct, we were discussing the concept not this exact report.

Yes, he doesn’t provide any justification for wanting US flagged ships without US crews onboard. US flagged ships can’t be forced to carry war cargo, they’re commercial vessels that can take any contracts they want. The reason having American flagged ships benefits national defense is then there are credentialed mariners available to activate MARAD ships or MSC ships if necessary. By far the primary benefit to national defense is the US crews working the US flagged ships, not the ships themselves so having a second register that allows US flag without US crews is completely pointless.

He does though in pages upon pages of detail, and also explains exactly what you said, that the purpose of the second registry ships would not be to carry military cargo. That is the point of suggested increase in the primary US flag fleet. The justification for a second registry fleet is increasing the US controlled supply chain, reducing reliance on potential adversaries for the overwhelming majority of present day imports.

The second registry ships, which would have to be US owned, could or could not US crewed, partly for the reasons detailed that we simply don’t have enough US credentialed mariners as is, and partly that it would keep operating costs competitive for these non-military cargo carrying vessels. The cost part is important because the companies in question would only be the ones currently operating the US fleet. In this way, during conflict, the US mariners could crew the US vessels transporting military cargo, and the second registry ships could continue carrying regular commercial imports/exports should a nation like China decide to stop their ships from US trade, all while making the whole thing economically viable for the US shipping companies. And he isn’t suggesting just opening up an unlimited registry, but adding essentially one for one primary/secondary ships with a set number per year to provide stability in order book to grow US shipyard build and repair capacity.

US Second Registry. The security value of a potential US second registry fleet focuses on the peacetime and gray-zone domains—helping secure maritime logistics supply chains by putting a larger share of commercial cargo in transit under the control of American companies and by creating a significantly larger number of American commercial ships that routinely operate in Western Pacific ports and trade. The second US registry would not be a substitute for US flag first-registry ships when it comes to key military sealift needs…

…At the same time, it should be obvious (and for reasons discussed above) that having significantly more commercial shipping capacity under US citizen control, even if some of the crews are not American citizens, would strengthen American security interests in the domains beyond core sealift functions. Hence, adding a limited and controlled fleet of second US registry ships would be an important force multiplier and come at a minimal cost to taxpayers.

Certainly the subject of a second registry has been had before with the likes of the USVI registry of which there’s been a great silence since that announcement. But that proposal was quite a bit different and wasn’t contingent on building more ships in the US for the primary fleet.

Not once, in any of all that he wrote did he actually justify it though. (I’m not saying he didn’t attempt to, I’m saying he failed.)

How is it any more “US controlled” than the current system of US owners using Liberian flagged ships with international crews for intentional trade?

I think there is agreement that we should increase the US fleet size. Doing so necessitates increased mariner count. The only way to increase the US fleet size is to make it financially viable for US ship owning/operating companies and shipyards. The only way to do that is to increase the number of ships at a rate which exceeds the US mariner count. Therefore, the possibly of a need for some non-US mariners. Much like the use of non-US build hulls, he suggests that as a (hopefully) temporary solution until US built hulls (and mariners) can be plentiful enough to phase out the foreign ones. Hulls being more plentiful over the duration of the buildup due to the steady guarantee bid/build schedule.

As to the second point of US controlled ships, I think the differentiation is that the current US owners as you say using Liberian flagged ships with international crews are almost exclusively investment groups or strictly ship owners who are not operating the vessels themselves. And as he said, the proposal is that none of them would be permitted to flag ships in the second fleet because they don’t have any US flagged vessels in the existing US registry. The only companies initially eligible would be those currently operating US flagged vessels.

only companies that participate in the first-registry US flag fleet program could enroll ships in the second registry, ensuring US citizen control of ships in both registries;

Look, I’m not saying any of this is the right plan, but to me it sounds different than previous proposals or the regular gut-the-Jones act Cato proposals and I think it warrants digestion and more than zero discussion.

Just FYI:

Activity Number Case Number Responsible Unit’s USCG Zone/Port Incident Date Activity Type
7625379 Not Associated with a Case APO, AE, Monday, January 30, 2023 Vessel Inspection
Resolved Deficiency Image Deficiency Information
System SubSystem Cause
01 - Certificates & Documentation 012 - Crew Certificates Not Available
Description of Deficiency
Excdept as otherwise provided in this section, on a documented vessel each unlicensed seaman must be: (ii) an alien lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent resrdence; or (iii) a foreign national who is enrolled in the United States Merchant Marine Academy. Vessel is employing (07) seven non-U.S. unlicensed crew members.
Due Date Resolved Resolved Date
Tuesday, January 31, 2023 True Friday, March 24, 2023
Resolution Description
Received email from master (with IMO Crew list) attesting to all COI positions being held by US mariners.

Crewing of the Maj. Richard Winters wasn’t to the letter of the law. Color me shocked.

It would be a lot better if USCG NMC would pull its head out of its ass, and get certificates issued to mariners, including new US Mariners.

And if necessary, issue some waivers to US citizens to sail above their current positions (e.g. let’s OS seamen sail without STCW as AB on domestic Jones Act trade vessels instead of brining in foreign seamen.

Better to fill job openings with US citizen greenhands and train them, than to hire foreign seamen for US vessels.

The US unemployment rate is creeping up as business quietly takes a downturn. A big correction in the overvalued stock market is coming. The big wave of baby boomer retirements is about over. The US job market will return to normal in the next year few years.

The US maritime job marker has very little slack right now, but it can return to normal over the next few years.

The uniformed USCG has a recruiting problem and is 10% understaffed. There is going to be less enforcement and more scofflaw owners ignoring USCG requirements.

There is no way this is the problem. My pre-crew change ritual of looking for desk jobs on LinkedIn brings up plenty of jobs I’m qualified for paying just as much as a mate, and even more that are AB equivalent. They just aren’t paying folks enough to sail these days. There are lots of days where a steady 9-5 M-F is a lot more appealing than a 00-06/12-18 M-M. When the pay is the same, why would you do this. I personally have a short list of whys, but I 100% understand the crewing shortage.


It’s one factor, a significant factor.

I know of companies hiring new deckhands and putting them right to work onboard while their applications for an MMC languish at NMC for months…

Few companies think that they should tie up boats and turn away business just because NMC cannot do it’s job.

Some people today simply are not interested in a job, any job. The Covid handouts made that group much bigger than ever.

A lot of young people are only interested in clean jobs that don’t require any physical effort or hardships.

The baby boomers have mostly retired. The next generations are smaller.

But I agree with you. Boat owners are making a lot of money right now. Our wages do need to be higher and owners can afford it.

Yeah, because they pay close to the same as the dirty ones that require physical effort.


It doesn’t help that the fact itself doesn’t understand a lot of the requirements. I’ve had companies violate the rules because the OCMI that they consulted didn’t understand the CFR and gave them the wrong advice.

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I’ve been hearing this for the past couple years, and I’m not 100% Sure I buy it. I think COVID just caused a paradigm shift of what the younger generations are willing to tolerate, and that manifests it in some busines models being unable to attract and retain workers. I have a bad taste in my mouth myself after watching everyone turn their back on Mariners, leaving them out at sea for years during the pandemic. If a 30 day trip can turn into 190 because “that’s shipping” I’m going to say no when you ask me to work over next time- that’s shipping. The hand outs ended two and a half years ago, and personal debt is on the up and up. A trend I’ve noticed on reddit is folks lamenting how the current job market sucks, they are sending out hundreds of applications and not hearing anything back. Theres no way the shortage is because no one wants to work anymore. No one wants to go be an OS on a tug for minimum wage when they have a computer sience degree and years of industry experience and the potential to make 6 figures in the right conditions.

Really the USMM just needs better marketing. Why aren’t the unions following military recruiters around high schools is beyond me, why aren’t we expanding programs at Piney point, the Tech Program at Star Center, Tonge point, ect.? If we pitched it to the right demographics, and had a program to get folks to AB, Mate, or A/E in 2 years, our problems could be gone in a couple years.


Its the path of least resistance in todays world/job market. When you look at a schedule, even one that is even time:

182 days working - away all day every day
182 days off
No other holidays
Potential loss of off days due to travel

Shore Job:
104 days off weekends
20-30 days off PTO
5 sick days
Public/government holidays: 10ish
(Some do Volunteer days, and wellness days- my company gives and extra 6 for those)
Possibly work from home full time or hybrid: extra bonus
If you go into an office, home every evening - so those hours can be factored into you at home schedule.

Pay for each: Probably comparable at this point, with shore based opportunities to go above what you make on ships.

Just looking at that, where is the true benefit anymore. Pay isn’t jumping off the charts, time off is almost even.
You could say the benefit is you can live almost wherever, depending on your at sea/inland/offshore career, so cost of living in a certain area is a benefit. But that is also the same for a remote job.

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Yes, absolutely. Most companies do not understand what the rules require. Neither do 95% of the people in the USCG. Some owners seem to be good at getting the USCG to tell them what they want to hear.

The USCG has a recruiting problem. They are 10% understaffed on the uniformed side.

There is virtually no enforcement against boat owners and there is going to be even less.

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A relative of mine is a lifer in USCG, He would agree with your position/statement.