American Merchant Mariners,
Short sea shipping has been a contentious and touchy issue in the American maritime industry for the past few decades and since the debate began not much has changed other than the rise in ATB traffic from the gulf and up the coasts. I would like to open a discussion among professionals on whether or not short sea shipping has a future in the United States, what that future might be if it exists, and what (other than a miracle) it would take to get it off the ground. As a way of firing the opening volley I would like to lay down what I see as the facts, or at least some of them:
1.) Short sea shipping is not only wide-spread but also successful in several other areas of the world, but NOT in the United States
2.) The areas of the world where short sea shipping is successful do not have highly developed road-freight systems like the U.S. does (18-wheelers, etc.)
3.) Americans would have a hard time swallowing the “inconvenience” of cargo moving marginally slower up and down the coast on feeder ships than it otherwise would on 18-wheelers on the highway. Walmart would have to wait an extra 2 or 3 days for their plastic cups and bowls from Taiwan. Are the American people ready for such a challenge?
4.) The Jones Act makes vessels that would move containers, and other cargo, between American ports extremely expensive, and therefore just as unprofitable, by requiring that they be built in the U.S. where labor and regulatory costs are higher than foreign countries that build equivalent vessels.
5.) It would [B][U]cost less[/U][/B] and be [B][U]far more fuel efficient[/U][/B] to move the same amount of tractor-trailer cargo per year on feeder ships instead
6.) The American highway system is chocked by sheer volume of vehicles and that and several other aspects of the American economy and society would benefit from having that congestion removed in favor of greater traffic on America’s [I]marine[/I] highways
7.) Short sea shipping would create thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of jobs in the Maritime Industry, especially (I hope, for my own sake) for limited-tonnage mariners (<1600-GRT) who aspire to do what the “big-boys” do, with their smaller licenses.
In order to help guide the discussion into a positive channel let me also postulate a potential opportunity for a solution:
Looking at what a company like Tropical Shipping Lines does, and considering the volume of off-shore supply vessels that there are in the gulf, and the volume of new ones being built, would it not then [I]potentially[/I] make sense to buy up old OSVs, which would more than likely be Jones-Act compliant by the way, and turn them into TSL-style container feeder ships for use in more than just the Bahamian/USVI trade? Could such an endeavor be profitable?
Will the United States ever have a fleet of 500-1600-GRT cargo ships (general cargo, container feeders, dry bulk, petro/chemical tankers, the whole nine yards)? Is so, how far off in the future would something like that be achievable?
My FINAL question, ladies and gentlemen, is the simplest of them all: which one of you wants to put up several million dollars in capitol for me to start a short-sea shipping company and get this new market off the hard and out into the shipping lanes? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? crickets chirping sadly…
Thank you for your time and discussion,