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GULFPORT (MS) CHAMBER OF COMMERCE MILITARY AFFAIRS BREAKFAST

REMARKS AS PREPARED

MARK H. BUZBY

MARITIME ADMINISTRATOR
GULFPORT (MS) CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

MILITARY AFFAIRS BREAKFAST

GREAT SOUTHERN CLUB

2510 14TH ST., GULFPORT, MS 39501

MARCH 22, 2019

 

Good morning. Thank you, Lt. Col., Ratcliffe for that kind introduction. I really appreciate the invitation to come down here from the wilds of DC to spend some time with you over some great bacon!

 

It is always a pleasure to be among supporters of our nation’s men and women in uniform and our merchant mariners - those like you who understand the relationship between our national security and our maritime industry.

 

You can absolutely count among those supporters my boss: U.S. Secretary Of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, who sends her greetings.

 

Another supporter is Mississippi’s senior Senator, Roger Wicker, who “encouraged” me to join you today. And I’m glad he did!

 

I know they both share my view that we need to spread the word that our U.S. merchant marine and our maritime industrial base are absolutely vital to our national and economic security.

 

It’s why as maritime administrator I spend a good amount of my time speaking to folks who need to hear and understand a simple fact that you and I know, and that is this:

 

America’s military strength is inextricably tied to the maritime industry and, specifically, the number of ships that are under U.S. flag and crewed by American mariners. While the entire U.S. flag fleet is important, of particular importance are our ocean-going ships that are necessary to support our military in distant places.

 

That’s not in any way to undervalue all of the other vessels, such as the towboats and oil and gas industry vessels that are so common around here.

 

With Gulfport’s role as one of our nation’s 17 strategic ports, and this region the home to some of our leading shipbuilders, I know this population down here understands this implicitly.

 

While one of the newest strategic ports, Gulfport is one of the few that has recent real-world experience, having supported the deployment of Mississippi National Guard units and the US Navy’s SEABEEs.

 

Your designation as a strategic port is all the more commendable given the time it has taken this area to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. I’m certain that many in this room were directly affected by that storm and deeply involved in ensuring that this region and this port would come back stronger than ever.

 

We need that same kind of commitment when it comes to reenergizing America’s maritime industry; it’s not just important for jobs and our economy but also for national security and our ability to respond in times of crisis. We are strong, but we must be stronger to meet our military’s sealift needs and to secure our future.

 

You may know that our primary responsibility at MARAD is—number one—to ensure that the U.S. merchant marine, which carries all the food, fuel, and sustainment supplies for the united states military, is up to the task when the bell rings. That translates into making sure we have enough fully equipped, modern vessels and enough highly-trained, fully-qualified mariners in peacetime to meet our military sealift requirements in times of conflict and crisis.
 

When U.S. forces deploy for military conflict or domestic crisis, such as hurricane relief, the equipment, supplies and other necessities must be carried on U.S.-flagged ships for the simple reason that our missions cannot be in any way hindered by the whims or political considerations of any non-U.S. carrier.

 

Those of us old enough to remember the first Gulf War in 1991 might recall that 13 of the 177 foreign vessels DoD had to use to meet its sealift needs hesitated or refused to enter the area of operation.

 

That cannot happen. When a ship delays or fails in its cargo mission, warfighters don’t get what they need, when they need it. Their ability to complete their mission and return safely home is compromised. That’s why MARAD’s work is so critical.

 

Yet, today, we face a serious challenge in holding up our end of the bargain. Right now, of the 40,000 plus large ocean-going merchant ships currently sailing internationally, only 82 are U.S.-flag ships.

 

The decline in ships – and the jobs they support in peacetime - has caused a domino effect to the point where America would likely face a shortfall of some 1,800 mariners available to crew the surge fleet in an extended emergency. 

 

It’s a simple equation: fewer U.S.-flag ships means less ability to carry military cargo and fewer places for trained mariners to ply their trade.

 

Estimates right now indicate that we need at least 45-50 additional U.S. flag ships to employ enough mariners to just meet our needs in a major war.

 

The good news is that there is a strategy proven effective in boosting the numbers of ships and mariners we need to meet the mission. It revolves around three pillars.

The first pillar is the Jones Act.

 

There has been a lot of discussion in the press about the jones act as of late – much of it slanted and negative.  

 

As many of you know, the jones act simply says that ships involved in domestic commerce – carrying our goods for our country - must be U.S.-built, us owned, U.S.-flagged, and crewed by U.S. mariners. While often discussed in terms of economics and trade, the jones act is primarily about defense and security. It helps protect our country, its shipbuilding capacity, and the pool of trained mariners we require. That’s why 80 percent of countries have similar laws.

 

There are about 41,000 vessels operating under the Jones Act – mainly tugs and barges, but there are also 99 that are large ocean-going ships – tanker, containerships, and roll on/roll off vessels.  These are mariner jobs!

 

Senator wicker also understands the importance of the jones act, as he pointed out in a recent op-ed in the Daily Journal up in Tupelo. I commend you to it.

 

The second pillar is the Maritime Security Program, MSP.

 

While MARAD does maintain a fleet of 46 government owned ships to provide immediate sealift capacity, we also rely on privately-owned, U.S.-flag ships in regular commercial trade to augment and sustain that capacity. To support this need, MSP provides a $5 million stipend per year for each of the 60 vessels enrolled in the program.  These vessels, when called upon, are available to help meet requirements for sustained sealift. 

 

The stipend helps carriers offset the higher costs of operating under the U.S. flag compared with, often, far cheaper international competitors.  It’s about a $6.7 million difference per year.

 

MSP helps ensure that, when the U.S. military calls, the privately-owned sealift vessels we need will be ready, willing, and able.

 

The third and final pillar is cargo preference.

 

Cargo preference statues simply says that 100 percent of military and 50 percent of non-military U.S. government cargo must be carried on U.S.-flagged ships. And we’d like to see more than 50 for non-military cargo -- as would others. 
 

But there are also those who’d like to see it go away all together, citing higher costs to transport via us flag vessels. So that dialogue continues, and, with our secretary’s backing, MARAD is making our voice heard.

 

Finally, it’s important to remember that, even with these three pillars of critical government support, our commercial fleet also depends on commercial cargo. Though, as I mentioned earlier, only 82 large vessels operate exclusively in international trade under U.S. flag, they deliver cargo for U.S. shippers and private citizens all over the world. The more the private sector uses our American ocean shipping services, the more cargo our U.S. flag carriers haul. And with more cargo comes more ships.

 

What the three pillars come down to is MARAD’s small part in the greater effort “to provide for the common defense” and “promote the general welfare.” By vigorously pursuing our mission of maintaining a strong, resilient U.S.-flag domestic and international fleet of ships and a pool of qualified American mariners to sail them, we will ensure that America has the sealift our military needs to respond in times of crisis or conflict.

Here on the gulf coast, I think you see just how symbiotic and interconnected the relationship is between our nation’s military sealift needs, our shipbuilding capacity, and our ability to find men and women to pursue careers on the sea.

 

It’s a simple equation: our military requires sealift, sealift requires ships, and ships require mariners. But as simple as that is, it’s a message that is not widely enough known or understood. That’s part of why I’m out here beating the drum. I hope as strong supporters of our men and women in uniform, you’ll join me in this effort.

 

Thank you for inviting me to join you this morning, and I look forward to your questions and our discussion.  God bless you and God bless America.

Updated: Thursday, May 23, 2019