The latest information on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is available on For USDOT-specific COVID-19 resources, please visit our page.


You are here







FRIDAY, MAY 17, 2019


Good morning. It’s great to be standing here at the battery under the gaze of Lady Liberty with so much maritime activity as a backdrop.


A special shout out to our next generation of mariners from Kings Point and Ft. Schuyler who are with us here this morning.


I bring you greetings from our Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, who as you know is a tremendous supporter of our industry. We are so fortunate to have her as our secretary particularly at this rather critical time for the U.S. maritime industry.


Two hundred years ago this month, the S.S. Savannah undertook an historic yet largely forgotten journey: the first transoceanic crossing under steam power.


With her pioneering voyage from Savannah, Georgia to Liverpool, England, the age of sail power gave way to the beginnings of the first industrial age, an era that would transform the speed of commerce and the nature of naval warfare.


Two centuries later, we’re moving into a fourth industrial age, one in which a crossing like the Savannah’s might soon be achieved without human hands tending the engines or navigating from the bridge.


This new, automated maritime age is not yet fully upon us, but that is where the world is headed—and we need to be prepared. Change is coming! And we all probably feel as uncomfortable about it as the able-bodied seaman aloft in the rigging felt when they saw their first steamer chug on by.


That’s part of why Maritime Day is so important. It’s a time to honor those who served, too many of whom gave their lives as patriotic merchant mariners – as depicted by this dramatic monument behind us.


It is also a moment to pause and to remind ourselves of just how critical maritime issues are for the security and prosperity of this island nation of ours. It is up to us to ensure that when our days at sea are done, that there is an American mariner there to embrace the new technology that is putting to sea and to relieve the watch.


For our economic security, a strong maritime community—comprised of ships, sailors, and the shoreside infrastructure to build, support and maintain them—is what allows us to control our own commerce. It supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and provide a livelihood for as many American families.


The recent and ongoing attacks on the Jones Act underscore our need to stand firm against those who would be happy to de facto turn our nation’s maritime infrastructure over to foreigners. Just think how proud we’d all be to see foreign flags flying from the mast and foreign tongues being spoken in the wheelhouse of the ships we see here today…


For our national security, our capable naval fleet is only one part of the sea power equation. The other is our commercial fleet. When American forces deploy, or when we respond to domestic or foreign emergencies, everything our troops need in an extended deployment sails in commercial ships. It is the foundation of our ability to project power and to defend our interests around the world – our asymmetric advantage.

Yet, there are troubling signs that we are not as prepared as we must be to meet the coming economic and national security demands.


As i have testified on several occasions – and will do so again on Tuesday; I have real concerns about the ability of the remaining 81 U.S. flag ships in international trade, and the 99 large Jones Act ships providing our nation with enough commercial sealift capacity – along with our aging RRF force – to meet the country’s needs in a protracted sealift effort.


That decline in ships has created a domino effect. The number of qualified America mariners has declined from a peak of 215,000 in the 1940s to just under 12,000 deep sea mariners today. That means we would fall about 1,800 mariners short of the number needed to sustain contingency operations.


The decline in U.S. commercial shipping is due, in part, to unfair foreign completion that benefits from lax regulation and tax policies, as well as from massive state subsidies. International competitors, notably China, pour billions of dollars of subsidies into their maritime industry to gain a strategic advantage against the United States.


For our economic security, for our national security, we cannot retreat from the sea. It would have dire consequence for maritime jobs and an indispensable industrial base. It would impinge on our ability to support military deployments through sealift.


As a nation, we must grasp the vital importance of these issues. We must develop the will to once again value our merchant marine. We must take the steps, now, that will enable our merchant marine to grow to a sustainable sized fleet.


All that said, I remain confident that we’re going to get there! I can report that we are working hard with industry and the congress on several initiatives that would incentivize growth in the US flag commercial fleet, and a recapitalization of our government-owned Ready Reserve Force sealift fleet. This stuff doesn’t happen overnight, but we are pushing in many directions, are getting supporters, and will continue to press on.


One very tangible step is the new national security multi-mission vessel, the NSMV. As Admiral Alfultis knows too well, cadets at SUNY Maritime are underway today on a ship—the Empire State VI—that is 57 years old. In fact, she is the sister ship of the Mormacsaga, the first ship I went to sea on at Kings Point nearly 40 years ago sailing from 23rd street in Brooklyn.


We owe those future mariners a better training platform – and that will be the NSMV.

It’s fully funded, and so is its sister which will go to mass maritime to replace the 53-year old Kennedy. I expect to name the vessel construction manager who will oversee the construction of those ships imminently. If all goes well, SUNY will have a new vessel in time for the 2023 training cruise.


We’ll be working hard with congress on replacing the remaining ships. It’s an important investment in our maritime future—and will help to make sure that there’s a new generation of mariners to relieve the watch.


And I haven’t forgotten about Kings Point! Working closely with Admiral Buono, we have prioritized and teed up $72 million in capital improvement projects over the next 36 months to address the academy’s strategic goals and prepare the facilities to deliver world-class maritime education into the future. You will see the progress very soon.


We’re also increasingly focused on maritime education and training through our nation’s more than 60 maritime high schools – the harbor school right here as a prime example - community colleges, and training institutions across the country. We want to get “maritime” into those young minds and provide a rewarding career path for a future on the water—like many of us have—and be the ones who relieve the watch someday.


Two centuries from the historic cruise of the Savannah, America’s strength still rises and falls with the health of the maritime community. We will need it to meet the challenges ahead.


So many of us fell in love with the sea at an early age. The sea just seems to find a way to capture the hearts of future mariners who will work and sail around the world. It’s up to us to make sure that, for every heart it captures, there is a place for that American mariner on an American ship.


My charge to you all is to take the responsibility to help me educate our nation on the importance of our industry, and to bring in new blood. It’s critical to our economic and national security in the face of an increasingly contentious world. Together, we can ensure that a U.S. ensign is always proudly snapping in the breeze from the mast of a U.S. vessel. Thank you.

Updated: Thursday, May 23, 2019