No one really wants to "save" the Merchant Marine

Having this site available is “Cool”. Mr Konrad and I don’t always agree. but am allowed to speak my piece. If I were to golf with him, would not bring a scorecard. He is a decent fellow in my eyes. Have no reason at all to kiss anyone’s ass. Remember, I am a happily retired so called “Grumpy Fuck” but not grumpy. So I will say it if you haven’t heard it before… You are a cool dude John, and have my respect. Keep up the good work.


You know that changes to the JA need to be approved by the Senate, right?

Ok, well good luck getting those changes passed by McConnell and Schumer.

Please see the title of this post. Thank you for coming to my Ted talk.

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This is exactly the point.

It’s either the status quo - or change.
A massive government subsidy, or modernization of the JA.

Lawmakers are seemingly clueless… they have plenty of documentation and research on the issue, but fail to get past the lobbies and the WWII style poster slogans.

To name a few - for your browsing leisure:
CRUDE OIL MARKETS: Effects of the Repeal of the Crude Oil Export Ban
NATIONAL MARITIME STRATEGY: DOT Is Taking Steps to Obtain Interagency Input and Finalize Strategy

Why is it that US Mariners aren’t allowed to question the JA. Everyone know’s the industry is in decline. The military knows all too well we lack the ships and the manpower.

As I’m sure John knows, any type of action is an uphill climb - and we’re being left in the dust. I doubt the government can meaningfully help in the current legal environment.

Where is that coming from? I haven’t seen any opposition to revisiting the US built requirement of the Act from any of the mariners on this forum.


In this forum, no, we haven’t seen anything of the sort. But once it reaches news, we regularly see a knee jerk wave of pro JA propaganda. I was in a union meeting at a hall, when the big man from upstairs stood up and told us in all seriousness with a straight face “if the jones act goes away, the Chinese are going to put spies on our tugboats.” Beautiful infographs show up, all sorts of well crafted posts and stories show up. Actually just today one of the guys I’ve got working on the IMMO posted this meme with great engagement by my standards.

At this point in my career, I really don’t feel comfortable publicly speaking against any part of the jones act. I’m sure there is plenty of astroturfing that happens everytime something comes up.

I do not feel like I can question the Jones Act.

Sooner or later technology will replace the American mariner - with or without the Jones Act. Therefore we shouldn’t waste our time protecting jobs that are doomed. Besides, the mariners are only a small slice of a much larger job pie.

We should protect, nurture and grow the shipbuilding industry. Firstly, because even when the need for mariners drops to zero there will be a need for ships and boats. Secondly, shipyards generate many jobs not only in the yard itself but in all the businesses that support a yard.

If you had to sacrifice one part of the Jones Act to save the other two (American built, American flagged, American crewed) the clear choice is to jettison the mariner. If you had to sacrifice another part the next to go should be the flagging requirement.

Shipbuilding represents too many jobs and too much institutional know-how to give up for a relative handful of overpriced mariners.


Shipbuilding does make for a lot of jobs. Finland, Italy, Norway among others seem to do OK in the shipbuilding business. Their shipyard workers make above average wages too. As far as US mariners being over priced that is simply not true. Japanese mariners were the highest paid years ago, I haven’t bothered to check recently. Most first world countries produce mariners that make a good living, some more than US mariners. The US mariner is at a disadvantage, one of the main reasons is their demand for health insurance provided by the company. As an employer who needs well qualified mariners I could choose from many nationalities. Why in the world would I choose a US mariner and have to set up a group health plan for him and his countrymen? They possess no skill that is not readily obtainable from Norway, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Eastern European countries who come with health insurance since it is covered with the taxes they pay. The Jones Act is a joke as far as protecting mariner jobs anyway. Waivers are granted regularly. Until the USA gets to first world parity with health care, unemployment benefits, pensions etc all taken care of by their own governments jobs for US mariners will continue to dwindle as they are simply too much trouble to employ. Having to hire people just to manage the US employees benefits, special taxes etc is just not worth it. Realistically if MSC is taken out of the equation one maritime school could supply all the Jones Act fleet needs every year. The OSD industry was the only thing keeping US mariners working for the last 20+ years and that is now gone.

John if you make a T shirt “make ships not memes” I will buy at least one.


Searching the Jones Act on the forum you will see the these same JA “modifications” suggested over and over. Along with second register, requiring US officers only, etc.

Are we thinking the United States merchant marine industry consists of only the JA fleet? Why no discussion of the non-JA US flag fleet. Have we accepted that death spiral as inevitable? What are the Cato solutions to bring that back to life? Oh yeah, nothing. Surprised they haven’t got their cronies to kill off MSP and cargo preference yet so they can drive a stake through the heart of that segment.

I’m curious about this “filling the gaps” concept. So the only reason Puerto Rico doesn’t buy LNG from main land suppliers is because the cost to build, man and operate a JA LNG tanker is too high. So is it your proposal that if an exemption was made to the JA to allow using foreign built bottoms would result in more mariner jobs this would be an exemption just for LNG going to PR? Or for any trade? I mean there is waiver process for National defense and other specialized activities. Would this become the PR LNG transportation waiver program or are you ready to jump in with both feet across the board?

If one year from such a foreign built US flag LNG tanker entering service Trinidad lowers its price or uses a cheaper carrier or US producers situation changes resulting in higher LNG prices and PR chooses to buy LNG from Trinidad what happens then?

Do the US LNG producers cry crocodile tears again and convince you the only reason they can’t compete is the high crew costs and they want just a small change to the JA to allow foreign seamen to man these ships.

If foreign built US flag ships is such a job saver what happened to the non-JA fleet? You couldn’t swing a dead cat in Brooklyn without hitting one when I was a cadet. Later came container revolution and same could be said of Port Elizabeth or Newark.

Now we have things like this . They have the benefit of the US banking and legal system at their disposal and while they account for some employment of HQ staff in Greenwich what do they really do for us? Hey yes it’s a free country and these guys can invest their money in 33 clean product tankers, charter them out, suck in money and cry about paying taxes all they want along with big Agra and petroleum producers.

I think many working mariners are skeptical that this minor change to the Jones Act is totally to the advantage of narrow business interests and the financier class and has nothing to do with working class jobs at sea or our neighbors who work in shipyards.

There are some US mariners that work on foreign flag ships and for foreign companies now. What do they do to ensure that they (and their family) are covered by health insurance and all the rest? Do they buy private insurance, or just “change it”.

When they are signed on a ship they are covered by P&I for any medical expenses (but not the family)
MOC’06 ensure mandatory health insurance, but that do not cover time off, unless permanently employed with regulated on/off schedule.(??)

PS> I assume that any protection offered by the JA do not cover employment on foreign flag ships? What does those working on foreign flag drilling rigs in the GoM do?

You know that answer. The US crew drilling or whatever are employed through a US company with US benefits and the Filipino or what ever foreign nationals are working through a crew broker and most countries they come from have some form of nationalized insurance.

Most family’s in the USA today have both spouses domestic partners whatever working so they get insurance for the family through the person who is employed in the US pretty simple.

Devils Advocate:

Why should anyone not in the industry want to save the MM? Why should anyone want to save any expensive, subsidized, or protectionist industry? What is a valid argument for this different than any other self-serving industry?

Many people don’t care about saving Coal because it’s seen as a dying industry, affects relatively few jobs, and coal is falling out of favor. It is easy to not care about Coal if you’re not a coal worker. They too make the National Defense argument as a power grid reserve energy, but it’s not working for them either.

Or print newspapers. Certainly press operators want to save their jobs, paper suppliers, ink and press manufacturers and repair technicians, delivery truck drivers. But most people get their news online now. So the vast majority of Americans are not out advocating to save the print industry because it’s unnecessary and irrelevant. I don’t see a great argument for them that isn’t self-serving.

Most capitalist industries that are not viable are allowed to die. Is the MM special?

Where was the push the last four years for shipping to be America First, Made in America, bringing back American Jobs? Not enough union or shipbuilding lobbyists in DC? And back to the original question, if lobbying is the only thing that makes an industry relevant, is it a necessary industry in the first place?

So if you want people to save the MM, you’re going to need a better reason for why it should be. Something universally and nationally marketable. “Because my own job depends on it” is not good enough for anyone else to care.

In my mind, that leaves profitability as the only answer. Make the industry profitable and it doesn’t matter whether Joe Public likes it, understands it, or even knows it exists. The largest single cost in US shipping is acquisition and financing cost of the ships themselves. I don’t care how readily available the money would be if the banking industry decided to back shipbuilding or shipowners, cheaper ships from any source increases potential profitability and industry viability.

Because the growth potential is domestic. The part of the industry closed to the non-JA fleet.

Would we be any worse off? Increased opportunity for domestic LNG shipment in lieu of pipelines could increase refinery profits, could increase competitive pricing. Or it could not.

But not instituting change because it may lead to more change is a terrible plan IMHO.

Can you elaborate on this growth potential? Is there pent up demand for coastwise road salt, gravel, sand, oil, or break bulk or containers that is not being met cheaper by tug and barge and trucks / rail?

You really believe the freight rate is going to drop that much that even with port costs and stevedoring they will steal shipments from other modes? Not to mention the timliness of deliveries. Or is it more likely to just put more money in shipowners pockets when they replace US built ships with foreign built ones and they reduce their costs. Same number of jobs sailing, just less in the shipyard sector.

Yes I guess that is what concerns me. We meaning Mariners would be worse off. Does having more ships create more consumer demand for what is being shipped?

So if we reduce this largest single cost as you have called it, and you doubled the coastwise fleet, the cargo is going to just double to fill these ships? Are there examples of this?

And instituting change for change sake or because it feels like a good story we can tell ourselves seems equally not a plan. At least from what I’m reading in the various gcaptain threads. Seems more like hey let’s take a flyer at this, what the hell couldn’t be any worse.

Devils advocate - do increased profits always lead to more jobs?

But actually I think your opening is closer to the truth. I don’t think it will be saved. My bringing up non-JA fleet was meant to be rhetorical in that that sector has pretty much been given up on. On life support of MPS and cargo pref shipments. There is no reason to think JA fleet wont end up the same way.

Why would anyone care about it? It seems to me not many do. It’s been good to me, I was adequately compensated, love the work and challenge, etc etc. but I quit sailing last year. So other than thinking the country / our society might be better off with more people employed rather than less I’m not sure why we engage in this mental masturbation. If the guys working now think this is going to grow the Jones Act fleet by all means organize and get’er done. Jesus though just do it with open eyes and something more than Cato and Bloomberg “facts”. The shipyard welder down the street can serve them burgers and fries and the outside machinist can get a job at a nail salon or something. And later, if they tip them well enough, when Poon Lin shipping is handling coastwise shipping because you know, profitable, they can use the welder as a reference. Too gloomy?

Sorry Chief, John only makes merchandise after stealing the idea from MemeLord.

And instituting change for change sake or because it feels like a good story we can tell ourselves seems equally not a plan.

Chief with all do respect, you’re going to die before the effects of your inaction to address climate change fully into effect. I have to live with it out here. You’re not the one out here dodging Hurricane Omega every year hoping it doesn’t knock the 60 year old steam plant offline.

Even if the only thing that comes about is companies replace their fleets with cheaper foreign built ships, at least we can hope they can read the writing on the wall and replace their fleet with LNG fueled ships, instead of the current plan “I think we can still make money if we burn ULSD in the boiler instead of HFO. Should make it another 20 years if no one pays too close of attention” or “we’ll just build an ATB”

“It worked for me” works great till it doesn’t. Like burying car batteries under the shop.

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I’d say mostly in oil & gas transport (like the LNG example) but it wasn’t meant to be a specific comment. More so that international trade is dominated by large legacy foreign players, so while possible it seems more difficult to break into that even with reduced vessel costs. However, the potential for domestic growth still exists because the cost barrier of entry for US companies has been too high to try, and foreign operators were never permitted.

For O&G specifically, it is an opportunity more than a given. North east refineries are limited both by pipeline capacity and ability to take cargo from tankers. If coastwise tankers were a viable industry, that might be seen as a reason to increase development of appropriate terminals at refineries.

I can speculate on what the possibilities are, and you can point out that it’s just speculation. But limiting the potential for multi-industry growth by not even letting anyone try is an absolute in the continued downward growth of the US MM.

Yea, I think we’re at that point, though not as blindly as “taking a flyer”. We’ve established for nearly 80 years what will lead to decline. It’s beyond time to try something different.

I too have been well taken care of by shipping. But saving my own job is not an adequate reason for change. Creating even the potential for growth in ship owning, ship repair, ship crew, ports and terminals, domestic O&G processing and distribution, etc, that to me is an adequate reason for change.

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I’m certainly comprehending all your points. I guess I’m looking at the JA as a safety device of sorts that May be setting a floor for some jobs in a certain sector of the industry including a bit of shipbuilding and ancillary suppliers and services. While growth of this same sector may be based on other factors like somehow increasing demand for marine transportation by increasing demand for the goods carried. Congress getting off its ass and investing in infrastructure?
Or shifting carriage from truck (and lesser extent from rail) to ships. Incentivize this somehow or more strictly regulate intermodal traffic on the truck phase. Maybe more public investment in engineered port facilities along I 95 with standard cargo handling to allow easy on / easy off.
Or innovate. Does all coastwise have to be slow / long distance / large volume? How about high speed regional carriers that carry smaller containers that can be quickly loaded in purpose built port facilities. Using smaller containers (including air cargo type) that can be rolled into box or stakebed trucks for short haul delivery inland. FedEx arrives at airport, containers move across the turnpike to port maybe by vacuum tube or maglev (more infrastructure work!) high speed small marine transport to Boston or Portland. Equally fast semi-automated unloading onto local box trucks for delivery inland. Why not electric trucks for these short hauls while we are at it.

To be sure this fantasy would require the legislature to act as adults and cooperation and compromise between various interests but a guy can dream.

So opposed to that wild theory above we have the JA not as a safety stop or floor but acting as the very impediment to growth in trade. Specifically in this case the US build requirement. That’s the thing holding us up.

Up thread somewhere someone linked to the status and recent history of the supposed national maritime strategy. It’s a sad story so far. Removal of the US Build requirement may become part of it either for good reason or to enrich certain interests. Those that really believe this or that it is better than nothing or that anything different would be better should work towards that end. I’m skeptical of the cause and effect here and will leave it at that.

Wow tough crowd here. On the beach one year and already I’m a climate rapist, landlubber, ne’er-do-well. Mom would be so proud.

I do believe the net effect of removing of the US build requirement would be to replace ships not add to the total number but only after they have wrung out the last ounce of service life from what they own now. So you may have a few more hurricane seasons ahead of you before you get to sail on any. Hey you may even be joining me at Sailors Snug Harbor before that happens. Pour me a Drambuie and come on over for a game of cribbage.

You bring up a very serious subject which I suggest could be more easily and directly dealt with than by removal of the US build requirement. Better enforcement by flag and survey by class, an expanded better structured CCF, perhaps a max service life requirement for those operators who don’t just get it or let them fail. Or add absolute requirements related to green ship design, performance.

If you want any of that to happen you are going to have to vote out a whole shit-ton of douche bags from Congress, including as many young ones as old.

If you believe in that idea and are doing enough homework to convince yourself it will achieve the results you hope for, please add my best wishes for the energy to convince others to enact it.