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APRIL 12, 2019


Good afternoon. Thank you, Brad for that kind introduction. It’s great to be back at Buzzards Bay. Admiral McDonald: thanks for hosting this important gathering of the maritime education community.


I can’t emphasize enough how great it is to be out of DC and back on the waterfront - if only for a little while. Today is shaping up to be a busy day, because I started it this morning in New Bedford checking out the port facilities, I’m here with you now, and by 1300 I’ll be on the move to Logan to catch a flight down to LaGuardia where a fast boat will be waiting to get me over to Kings Point in time for their battle standard dinner tonight at 1800.


I thoroughly enjoy my time spent with those who are preparing to join our industry – our cadets and midshipmen - and you – the sea-wise practitioners – the “grey beards” - of our trade who continue to invest in our industry by educating and training the next generation.


As someone who has spent a good chunk of my career passing on knowledge - I know the sense of fulfillment you feel, and I salute you for your continued commitment. I think we all want the young’ins coming up behind us to love seafaring as much as we did - and still do.


Among your supporters you can also count my boss: Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, who sends her greetings. She understands, as we do, that our nation’s economic and military power rises and falls with the strength of our maritime community. That has been true since our founding; it remains true today.


The good news I can report to you, based on my recent firsthand experience testifying before the house and senate, is that leaders in the Congress and in this Administration, grasp the vital importance of maritime issues, and that they are committed to strengthening its future, just as you are in your role as educators.


Most understand that foundational policies like the Jones Act, the Maritime Security Program, and cargo preference—what I call the three pillars—are what is currently keeping our U.S. maritime industry from disappearing altogether.  


They’re beginning to grasp the critical need to recapitalize a Ready Reserve Fleet of 46 vessels averaging 44 years of age. We struggle to maintain the RRF’s readiness today, and support the Navy’s surge sealift recapitalization strategy, which includes targeted service life extensions, acquiring and converting used vessels, and building new vessels in U.S. shipyards. But I’m open to other ways to provide the sealift that our nation needs.


Congress is also starting to understand the implications of the shortage of U.S.-flag ships and mariners.


Right now, of the 40,000-plus large ocean-going merchant ships currently sailing internationally, only 81 fly a US ensign. The decline in ships—and the jobs they support in peacetime—has created that 1800 mariner shortfall necessary to sustain our mobilization efforts and crew the surge fleet in an extended emergency. We believe that we need at least 45-50 additional U.S. flag ships just to have a sufficient pool of mariners to meet our needs in a major sealift and sustainment operation. There are several options being considered to bring those ships in.


This is a tremendous challenge – managing the talent that we will need in an emergency versus the employment options available in the fleet today. We must not only address the immediate shortage and emergency manning requirements, but also the creation of a sustainable, resilient population of mariners with the right skills for the long-term.


That’s why we are putting lots of focus on mariner education. Not only is MARAD a family of men and women who feel deeply and passionately about an industry that gave us a chance to serve, explore and grow, but we also know that a long-term strategy starts with reaching young people who are drawn to the sea, as we were, and helping prepare them for maritime careers.


We can also ensure that this industry can be a place where Americans find rewarding careers that support a family.


That work is underway at over 60 maritime high schools across the country, many near ports and maritime commercial centers, including New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Houston, and Cleveland. And the number is growing. I encourage you to engage with these schools in your communities and to help them cultivate a new generation of mariners.


Community colleges and training institutions across the country are also coming on line in increasing numbers, preparing both new mariners and a workforce for the broad set of jobs on waterfronts, docks, and in shipyards. That’s why MARAD is focused on establishing domestic centers of excellence for maritime workforce training and education under authorities given to us by congress last year.


This is a course change; MARAD’s role in supporting maritime education will now go beyond the traditional “blue water” mariner to include recognition and support for the Great Lakes and brown water operations and other shore-based maritime workforce needs. The pending shortage of workers in these sectors has been documented. We need to address it.

Additionally, we see a source for future mariners in America’s veterans, which is why we were pleased that the president signed an executive order last month advancing military to mariner efforts. Getting a maritime issue into the oval office is a big deal – and hopefully it won’t take another 40 years to get another one in there!


Collectively, these efforts will help provide the workforce required for domestic and international trade, and for sealift in times of crisis or conflict. But we will also provide careers for men and women too often left behind in today’s economy. They can find a future on the water, just as many of us did.


That’s also why we’re investing in our state academies, the most visible evidence of which is our new national security multi-mission vessel.


I think we can all take pride in the fact that the maritime training community and MARAD really pulled together over a sustained period of time to work across two administrations and with congress to make the case to construct new, purpose-built training vessels in us shipyards. No one gave this much of a chance, yet here we are today with two ships funded, and a third in the budget with strong congressional support. I can’t help but think that is a strong endorsement for the importance of a strong merchant marine. We are building new ships – I love saying that!


We’re now in the final throes of selecting a vessel construction manager for the ship and expect to announce that in the coming weeks. That should permit a shipyard to be selected and a construction contract to be let later this calendar year. We expect delivery of the first ship in time for the 2023 training cruise at SUNY. The second ship, destined for here, is expected 15 months later.


You're getting a solid investment in the NSMV. The design is impressive enough that there is a proposal that the Navy investigate building a ship based on it. I believe it will serve our academies well as we enter a maritime era that will look vastly different than the on we encountered when many of us first went to sea.


Back then, we sailed in ships that were products of the first industrial revolution; future mariners will very soon go to sea with autonomous systems and disruptive technologies of the fourth industrial revolution as their shipmates. It’s already upon us.


The next generation will also have to contend with heavily networked systems and cybersecurity threats that threaten to take control and weaponize our ships, our cargos, or our terminals. I am very pleased that efforts here at mass maritime include a robust focus on cybersecurity. I know that many others of you are actively trying to work it into already overstuffed curriculums. We’ve gotta do this.


These new challenges and opportunities should illustrate why we cannot afford to think conventionally or to lean on old, familiar ways. Experience counts; it’s valuable; but it is not an excuse for failing to challenge old assumptions or ourselves.


We must get out of our comfort zones and look for new ways to educate future mariners for a new, more technologically advanced maritime industry – but not at the expense of those baseline skills that keep ships safely moving through the water and off lee shores.


Woe betide us all when we start graduating new mates and engineers who haven’t earned a few calluses on their hands and some dirt under their fingernails, or felt the weight of binoculars around their neck. They’ve gotta have that – plus the smarts and experience to operate and repair highly networked systems. Marlinspike, slugging wrench, or tweeker – they’ve got to be experts with them all. Your challenge, shipmates.


Thankfully, one constant is the sea’s ability to capture a young man or woman’s imagination. I hope that never changes. Our duty is to ensure that we prepare those young folks for a thriving U.S. maritime industry in which they can serve, work, and contribute to our nation’s economic and national security.


Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Updated: Thursday, May 23, 2019