National Maritime Day Opinion: U.S. Must Maintain its Merchant Marine Fleet to Protect Our Sovereignty

Today’s editorial ’ National Maritime Day Opinion: U.S. Must Maintain its Merchant Marine Fleet to Protect Our Sovereignty’ by Mike Stevens is another rehashing of the US Merchant Marine of the past…without any proposed solutions for today’s situation. His comment ‘The (Jones) Act is a critical line of defense against China’s maritime dominance’ is, unfortunately, nonsense. The Jones Act US-build requirement is the reason our JA deep sea fleet is under 100 vessels. How could 100 ships be a game changer in a war with China?
The few US shipyards that build deep sea vessels could possibly deliver 15-20 ships/year in times of crisis. A war would be over before their contribution had an effect. And, what ships will service US coastal trades if JA ships are used for national defense?
None of the US flag internationally trading ships are US-built. None of the ships in Marad’s Maritime Security Program are US-built. The JA should be preserved as is, but amended to remove the US-build requirement. This would greatly expand the JA fleet, providing thousands of American mariner jobs.
Ships are the only form of intra-US transport that have to be US-built…airplanes, trucks, railroad equipment and other vehicles may be foreign built. Why?
Our shipyards are high priced and inefficient because of economies of scale. They may deliver 3 ships in a good year while the big three Korean yards each deliver close to 100.
Expand the USMM by allowing JA ships to be foreign built.

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This statement has been before by others in the past. I must therefore ask; in what trades would this greatly expanded JA fleet run. There are primarily 3 services that larger cargo ships operate, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska. How many more ships can those services handle than there are now? How many more domestic tankers would you see?

Yes, I know you’ve spoken about the lack of short sea shipping. I am in favor of that cause, but the cost of ships is just one facet of that equation. Operational cost and exiting fee structures make it difficult. You can’t exactly just say “built it and they will come” and expect boxes to disappear off the roads onto ships. I think it will eventually become to pass but it will be in small incremental steps.


Virtually all of the JA deep sea trades would benefit from being allowed to build overseas. There could be some new trades made economical as well, such as short sea container shipping on the east coast.
Attached is a graphic of what happens every day: US gasoline is exported to Canada and Canadian gasoline is exported to the US, i.e. foreign flag ships passing each other going in opposite directions carrying the same cargo. The reason for this is the high cost of shipbuilding in the US and Canada. Yes, US flag ships cost more to operate, but the deciding factor is the ship cost.
If foreign built ships are allowed into existing JA trades, owners of ships built in the US would have to be compensated. This has been done in other countries such as Sweden. That would be a one-time issue.

There may be few US yards that currently build deep sea vessels, however there are over 300 shipyards in the US that benefit from the Jones act and contribute to our national economy. They create over 100,000 jobs and contribute $9.9 Billion in labor income. They create $42.4 Billion in GDP. From 2015-2020, US shipyards delivered 5,000 newbuilds in every maritime industry sector. Tugs, Tow Boats, Commercial Passenger Vessels, Fishing Vessels, OSVs, Barges. These yards create pathways for our labor force to upskill, creating economic mobility and a path to the middle class. Our nation must retain those skills in our labor force. I’ve seen the opportunities this industry creates. Eliminating the US build requirement would eliminate these jobs by sending them overseas, would only benefit corporate profits, and would result in the US further loosing the technical skills necessary for national security.

If you want a more in-depth look, have a read of the linked report.
For a summarized version, a quote by Thomas Jefferson, “ For a navigating people to purchase its marine afloat would be a strange speculation, as the marine would always be dependent upon the merchants furnishing them. Placing as a reserve with a foreign nation, or in a foreign shipyard, the carpenters, blacksmiths, caulkers, sailmakers, and the vessels of a nation, would be a singular commercial combination. We must, therefore, build them for ourselves.[…] To force shipbuilding is to establish shipyards; is to form magazines; to multiply useful hands; to produce artists and workmen of every kind who may be found at once for peaceful speculations of commerce and for the terrible wants of war.” Many more such quotes are available because national leaders have consistently recognized the import of a global seapower to maintain such seapower, and that such support is necessary in both peace and war.


Yes, US yards that build smaller, non-deep sea vessels are competitive world-wide, i.e. they don’t need the JA to thrive. The US builders of deep sea vessels are nowhere near world-class when it comes to delivered costs. Whenever someone like Marad wants to tout the JA, they always include smaller vessels to boost their numbers.
A JA deep sea fleet of under 100 vessels is clear evidence that the 102 year old JA is not working.

They’re definitely not. Why would I build a Jones act compliant Subchapter T or K passenger vessel in the US when I could build one in Mexico for much cheaper at the same price? The only reason US gulf coast yards can do any newbuilds is because of Jones Act. I guarantee that if the US Build requirement were eliminated, within 10 years those jobs would be sent over to Mexico. Probably the same builders even, but opening up operations in Mexico.


Sweden does have a Maritime Cabotage Law:
Coastal trade permit (cabotage) - Transportstyrelsen
But does NOT have any “Swedish built” requirement, nor have the ever had AFAIK.
PS> Sweden is member of EU.

That is the idea: JA be amended to allow foreign built ships. US flag, American manned and owned. This is the only way I see to enlarge and modernize the USMM.

Marad says American builders of smaller vessels export $3-4 billion of these annually.

No, that’s NOT the idea. The idea of the US build requirement is to maintain a base of industry capable of building ocean going vessels. What happens to those large yards if that requirement goes away? They’ll go out of business in short order.

The arguments you make are economic and I’m not saying you are wrong. But the reason the requirement exists is not economic so this is kind of an apples and oranges argument.

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As I mentioned, these handful of yards could not possibly deliver enough tonnage to make a difference in a war. They build too slowly and have limited capacity.

Perhaps you have a crisis scenario in which these shipbuilders would make a difference.

And there are many products that we import which are more vital to national security than ships…including virtually all electronics, phones and computers, pharmaceutical products, airplanes, and so on.

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They’re all important to national security. The path forward is to get more of those industries back onshore not to further offshore them.

But that’s only if your major concern is what’s best for America as opposed to what’s best for profits for corporations.


Boy does that sound like such a strange and long bygone concept…

Of course, to even think such things is SOCIALISM :roll_eyes:


It is encouraging to see that Apple will be making iPhones in the US. Something that a lot of people don’t know is that shipyard labor cost/hour is about the same in So. Korea as it is in America. But Korea can build ships with many fewer man-hours of labor due to their technology and automation.

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Kudos for Korea for their excellence in shipbuilding (an economic point)

That won’t help us when conflict with China cuts off our supply from the Korean yards (a national security point).


Are you talking only about wages or are you talking about total labor cost borne by the respective yards?

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As a compromise, to protect the smaller shipyards that are able to stay profitable, why not add in that vessels under say 10,000 grt (or some other cutoff) must be built in the US. Anything over the cutoff could be built overseas. This has always seemed, to me, to be a pretty fair compromise.

You brought up that only three areas are serviced by deep sea Jones act currently (Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico). All of which have a pretty high cost of living which is also what most opponents of the Jones Act point to for their main argument. It would be rational to say that costs would go down if not only cheaper built vessels were used (little savings) but also if more vessels serviced those areas (big savings).

Dropping the US built requirement would also allow the building of LNG tankers to service the NE, the retirement of vessels in questionable shape like the El Faro, and possibility of short sea shipping in certain areas.

I agree, limit the foreign builds to deep sea vessels. The El Faro tragedy is one reason I am interested in modernizing the USMM via foreign builds.

All in, wages and benefits. So Korea is a rather expensive country.

Is there any demand for such newbuilds? Say we were to have any foreign tankers, roro, conro, or container enter service it would benefit only a small handful of companies correct? Tote, APL, MLL, Crowley, Matson, Interlake, Seacor, just guessing a few off the top of my head. Together they operate roughly 97 vessels that are Jones Act Eligible, they have 183 total ships(2020 numbers). Would newbuilds even start entering the market? Sure very slowly, though those other USFlag non-Jones act ships may just enter into jones act trades with the companies that own a mixed fleet. What would the benefit really be? Save a few million over the lifetime of a single ship, at the cost of offshoring skilled trade jobs for the middle class. The real solution is to increase shipbuilding subsidies, shipyard grants, and other such support. On the macro scale, the pennies saved by building a ship overseas do not benefit the American taxpayer.