I come from a generation of Mariners that is often accused of just making memes making fun of John Konrad, and not really contributing to the conversation on what we can do in regards to actually “saving” the US merchant marine. It’s true, I never come to the gcaptain forum because you all are just a bunch of grumpy old men. Last time I posted something here I was a high school student asking how to become a pilot, and predictably I was roasted to a crisp. But after enough people sent me forum posts about "those damn millennial snowflakes’’ complaining and not contributing, I figured I ought to throw in my two cents.
I’m not convinced anyone really wants to save the merchant marine in the first place. You don’t have to be a SUNY grad to see the problem- I think most of us can look around and think “why don’t we just build more ships?” We know the answer. The Jones Act requires they be built in the US. Why aren’t more ships built in the US? Well, it’s expensive.
Everyone is thinking it, I’m just going to say it. If we got rid of the build Requirements, but kept the rest of the Jones Act, it could do a lot of good for our country, not just in terms of filling a market for smaller feeder ships, coastwise container routes and probably other markets that are above my pay grade. Not to mention the environmental impact we could have getting trucks off the road, more LNG powered ships and the infrastructure to go with it, and turning our old ass ships into razor blades. (That is if you actually can turn red hand into a razor blade, as that’s what some of our fleet seems to be made of at this point)
The airline industry manages to keep American flight crews on Airbus aircraft. Swift doesn’t recruit foreigners as OTR truck drivers. I don’t know why we keep shooting ourselves in the foot with this expensive American equipment.
BuT tHiNk oF tHe ShIpYaRdS!!1!!11
We’re supporting what, 8 shipyards? That’s the plan? WWIII breaks out and these 8 shipyards are our lifeline? One isn’t even owned by Americans! Oh come on, in a real crisis we watch Kodak start making ventilators, it’s not these 8 shipyards that are going to crank out a ship a day. Yes, getting rid of the build requirement will result in some yards going belly up, but the rest can survive the way our shell of a merchant marine survives anyway: Government contracts. Isn’t that how Boeing is able to compete with foreign aircraft manufacturers? Shipyards will survive.
There you go. Quick and dirty, how to get more ships, merchant marine saved, John can put down the radio and stop calling pan pan.
But no one wants to save the merchant marine, and the plan I laid out is never going to happen. First, companies like Mattson, Crowley and Tote would absolutely lose their shorts on their new ships. I’d imagine it would be cheaper to turn their brand new ships into artificial reefs, default on their MARAD loans, and rebuild their ships in Korea that it would be to keep operating their 3 billion dollar new builds.
My buddies and I disagree on this next reason, but as Crowley and Matson are losing their shorts, I think several other things could happen driving the mariner’s day rate down. You see when the truck drivers lost their protectionist laws regulating freight rates, they went from making six figures in today’s money, to the average of 50k overnight. You’d see companies like Stolt, Eagle and Evergreen reflagging their ships adding competition, maybe you’d see Yee Haw Marine buy some 2nd had ships too. Sure, jobs get added, but at what cost? Are we going to keep our bougie ass day rates? I bet not.
Is that a sacrifice you are willing to make for your country? I barely want to do my job for what I’m being paid now, drop my day rate by 50% and the last you’ll see of me are the soles of my boots as I yeet myself off the bridge wing and swim my ass to the nearest vocational school to get retrained in a medical trade.
Next comes the issue of crewing. We see these stories about how the merchant marine is going to run out of mariners, yall around here act like that shortage is in the officer’s mess, like increasing Kings Point’s funding is going to change anything. We graduate enough 3rd mates every year to relieve every 3rd mate in the fleet, and that’s assuming every ship has 4 3rd mates attached to it, which isn’t the case. Officer’s job boards can be scribbled into a pocket sized notebook, while SIU regularly has 75 jobs on the board. I haven’t sailed AB, or even paid dues to SIU in some time, and I’ve still gotten calls for AB jobs recently. Meanwhile most new mates can’t get dispatch to return their calls. Where are you going to find the crew for all these new ships you want? Especially at a reduced day rate!
I always laugh when people say companies should reflag cruise ships and put American crews on them. What crew? The pride of America regularly takes up half of SIU’s Job board with untaken jobs, you really think we can find two of those crews? Similar story for LNG tankers, I’m reading articles saying we need highly trained Americans moving such a volatile cargo. Do we have enough mariners with real LNG experience in the past 10 years to crew more than two ships? Or would you rather trust the crew that actually has been doing this for years to move the cargo?
This is pretty depressing, right?
“What do you suggest we do about it, all wise gen-Z Mariner?”
I suggest we do the same thing we do when we sign on to our old ass equipment. Pray to God she can stay afloat till we’re due to sign off. We all see the trend where new mariners last 5 years, I do not plan to be an exception. Let’s just keep our head down and make money till we can get out of here. If you’re an old man stuck sailing, this shouldn’t be a problem, I’m sure you can play frogger across the fleet till you retire or die from living such a hard life.