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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

AS Prepared: Ship Operations Cooperative Program (SOCP) Annual Meeting

Monday, September 26, 2022






Thank you for that warm introduction.  On behalf of the Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join you today. 

This is my first SOCP meeting since I had the honor of being confirmed in May.  I am excited to learn more about your work and thank you for your support of so many critical initiatives in the maritime industry. 

I know that SOCP is, to use a maritime analogy, the homeport where maritime leaders from education and training programs, industry, labor, and government meet and work together to advance innovation. 

I thank you for all that you have done to help the maritime industry meet the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 Pandemic.  I also thank you for your support as we work to drive culture change across the maritime industry to strengthen safety and to support diversity, equity, and inclusion.  I will talk in more detail about both of these issues in a moment. 

As you know, MARAD’s mission and responsibility is to foster, promote, and develop the maritime industry to meet our nation’s current and future economic and security needs. And this has been an extraordinary time at MARAD and, of course, throughout the Department of Transportation.   


Let me start by talking briefly about the unprecedented investments that the Biden-Harris Administration is making to modernize our infrastructure.   

The President’s commitment has resulted in a once-in-a-generation investment in our ports and intermodal infrastructure to strengthen supply chain resiliency and to reduce the climate impacts of port operations. 

Frankly, these investments could not have come at a more critical time.    

Record volumes of cargo have moved and continue to move through our Nation’s ports 

We thank the many professionals throughout our supply chains—including the inland waterways, at ports around the nation, on the rails, in trucks and at our warehouses—who have met this challenge.   

However, despite the herculean efforts of industry partners, these record volumes have been moving on generations-old infrastructure. 

Now, thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, over the next five years, the Department of Transportation will award billions—billions with a “B”—of dollars in funding to modernize our ports and waterways.    

Ports are eligible for funding under several of the Department’s major infrastructure grant programs—Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) and Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA)—and, of course, under the Port Infrastructure Development Program and the America’s Marine Highways program, both of which MARAD administers. 

Looking just at the PIDP program, the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide more than $2 billion through that program over the next five years in funding to invest in ports.  

To put this figure in perspective, the funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for PIDP alone is roughly the same amount of money that had been invested in ports by all DOT grant programs prior to the enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law since the DOT began investing in ports with the 2009 Recovery Act.   

The extraordinary investments being made in our ports will be key to helping us build the infrastructure on which our freight will move for decades to come and we are thrilled to be working to get these investments out the door as quickly as possible.  


Let me turn to MARAD’s work ensuring that we have the trained mariners to provide sealift support to our military whenever and wherever needed and to move our commercial cargoes.   

Let me also note that groups like SOCP are critical at understanding the issue and providing recommendations and action plans to address the need for a robust workforce.   

Of course, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is housed within MARAD.  Kings Point graduates just over 200 new mariners every year with unlimited tonnage officers’ licenses and trains the majority of our strategic sealift officers. 

MARAD and the Department of Transportation are engaged in an unprecedented effort to strengthen infrastructure at the Merchant Marine Academy; to strengthen the support we provide to our midshipmen; and to expand diversity, equity, and inclusion at this Academy.   

It is critical that this Academy—and indeed all training facilities and our entire merchant marine—reflect the diversity of the nation they serve.  Only by taking deliberate and long overdue steps to expand diversity, equity, and inclusion will we be able to draw on the unique talents of all Americans who have a passion for the sea. 

MARAD also provides support to the nation’s six State Maritime Academies.  As part of that effort, we are building the first-ever purpose-built training ships in our nation’s history—the National Security Multi-mission Vessels—which are under construction in the Philly shipyard.   

We will take delivery of the first NSMV next spring.  The first ship is far along in construction—and it will be an incredible training platform that will also provide state-of-the-art emergency response capabilities to the nation.  

We also have numerous other initiatives underway to help attract and educate the next generation of our maritime workforce—both afloat and ashore. 

For example, last year, we recognized the first-ever Centers of Excellence consisting of community and technical colleges and maritime training centers, and our second application period closed just last week and brought in 28% more applicants than last year.  

We look forward to another round of designations later this year. In addition, our planned future engagements with the K-12 community will help us build the next generation of a diverse and inclusive maritime workforce.  

That said, I don’t have to tell you that the COVID pandemic has made what were already hard jobs even harder.  Mariners, in particular, have had to stay at sea far longer than usual.  Crew changes became exceedingly complicated and, in too many cases, even impossible.   

And these stresses are clearly affecting mariners’ mental health and willingness to continue sailing.  

On Friday, I convened a round table with industry and labor in which several of you participated. This event gave us excellent insights on your current crewing challenges and the comments we heard are being reviewed by our team.    

MARAD is particularly concerned by studies warning that the stress of being a mariner is taking a stark toll on those who sail.  MARAD supported and facilitated a 2021 University of Washington study that found that approximately one-fifth of mariners were at risk for major depressive disorder.   

And almost 23% were found to be at risk for generalized anxiety disorder—a number notably higher than among employees in other industries.  Studies in other countries have yielded similar concerns.   

These findings are startling—and MARAD has been working to raise the alarm and to provide access to information about support systems on which mariners can draw when they need assistance. 

I thank SOCP for your support of this critical effort to raise awareness of this issue. 


There is another urgent issue facing our industry and our effort to recruit and retain the workforce of the future. 

We must continue working together to prevent bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the maritime industry.  Quoting Secretary Buttigieg, “There is no safe harbor for sexual assault or sexual harassment in the maritime industry.”   

At the Maritime Administration, we believe that every mariner has the right to expect that every workplace will be one where essential values of mutual respect and dignity are firmly upheld and where all workers have an equal chance to excel on the basis of their competency and professionalism.  I know you all share this commitment. 

Late last year, as you know, we paused Sea Year training at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.  We did this so we could strengthen both the measures we require of the vessel operators carrying cadets and also our own institutional policies, procedures, and training instructions to improve safety and support a culture of respect. 
In response to a request from Congress for a public plan to improve safety, MARAD developed a program called “Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture,” or EMBARC.    

This program enumerates policies intended to help prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment, to support survivors, and to support a culture of accountability.   

Carriers must now adopt these policies before cadets can embark on their vessels.  And, critically, we intend these policies not only to strengthen cadet safety, but to be the first steps in what must be an ongoing effort to strengthen the safety culture for every mariner.    

That is why we have required these practices to be implemented in vessels’ Safety Management System: to make sure this is a safety priority for every mariner aboard a vessel.  

To date, 14 companies have enrolled in the EMBARC program.  MARAD commends the companies that have already enrolled and urges every U.S.-flagged carrier to follow their example as soon as possible and enroll in EMBARC.  

Critically, MARAD has initiated a cooperative agreement with SOCP to update and modernize sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and response training, including the development of a revised set of related Best Practices for everyone associated with the industry.   

We recognized within EMBARC the urgency of updating these materials and appreciate SOCP’s commitment to undertaking this vital work to ensure that EMBARC requirements as well as any new requirements enacted in legislation are fully and accurately reflected in the new training materials—and that these materials reflect both lessons learned and current best practices. 

As with current materials, the training materials that are produced through the current effort will be available to everyone—and we will work to make sure that they are far less cumbersome to access. 

Thank you for this work. 

Safe Marine Transportation System (SafeMTS) PILOT PROGRAM 

Finally, before I close, let me note that MARAD and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics are working in partnership with the maritime industry to create the SafeMTS Pilot Program initiative.   

This project will develop and demonstrate a safety data system with the capability of confidentially collecting and analyzing voluntarily provided safety data that is key to advance safety of operations within the maritime transportation system. 

With a broad set of safety data and robust data analytics, accident precursors and potential hazards associated with maritime operations can be identified and shared across the maritime industry so corrective actions can be taken to improve MTS safety.   

Gathering and analyzing data on near-miss events provides great opportunity for companies and crews to learn from common occurrences.  

In addition, the results will enable companies to embed corrective actions for increased operational safety within their Safety Management Systems. 

I know this and similar efforts have been discussed by industry and government for more than two decades, and I have been impressed by the resolve of all involved to overcome the barriers and move forward with the SafeMTS pilot program. 


As I close, let me say that SOCP has taken on the enormous responsibility to ensure the vitality of our maritime industry and carry it into the future. 

Thanks to SOCP, its membership, and its leaders for tackling challenges to usher the industry into the future through working groups that address issues like safety and security, environment, and workforce recruiting, training and retention. 

Everyone attending today has a critical role to play in advancing our collective efforts to create a safe and efficient maritime industry that ensures our economic and national security—and I thank you for the work you have done and continue to do to support our success.