Transcript: Maritime Administrator Rear Admiral Ann Phillips Address to NAMMA Convention
REMARKS AS DELIVERED BY
MARITIME ADMINISTRATOR REAR ADM. (RET) ANN PHILLIPS
AT NAMMA CONVENTION
MARITIME CONVENTION CENTER, MD
OPENING & CURRENT ENVIRONMENT
It is my distinct honor to be here today as MARAD’s 20th Administrator. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to serve our nation and to work with so many stakeholders—many of whom are here today—to advance MARAD’s essential mission to foster, promote, and develop the maritime industry to meet our nation’s current and future economic and security needs.
MARAD is the Federal agency responsible for promoting the U.S. merchant marine. MARAD also manages the Ready Reserve fleet—a fleet of more than 40 cargo vessels that must be available on 5-days’ notice to support military sealift needs.
We understand the urgent requirement for a constant flow of skilled and readily available mariners and we are charged with helping train and educate the next generation of mariners to carry out and improve the quality of U.S. maritime operations at sea and ashore, including everything from shipbuilding to port operations, to cybersecurity. We operate the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and provide extensive support to State Maritime Academies.
We believe the U.S. Merchant Marine has a very bright future—and we know that the merchant marine will continue to be essential to our economic success and our national security.
That said, looking at the ocean-going fleet, we estimate that we are at least 1,800 mariners short if we needed to support a prolonged activation of our surge fleet and our commercial fleet. The need to maintain an adequate workforce in today’s military, economic, and political environment is a constant challenge.
Tackling this challenge requires effective partnerships, and MARAD is proud to work alongside organizations like the North America Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA) that advocate for the rights and welfare of mariners, and I thank NAMMA and its leaders for supporting our mariners and ensuring that they receive spiritual and moral support while they are so far away from home.
I have two calls to action for you today:
First, we must support and advocate for mariner mental health. At MARAD, we are spearheading new initiatives to support mariner health and advance culture change in the industry even as we help prepare a new generation of mariners to take the helm.
As it has always been, the life of a mariner is uniquely challenging and demanding. While we work toward a better future, too often, our fellow Americans do not really understand the challenges mariners face—and this is still the case even as supply chains have become front-page news.
Of course, there are the prolonged periods of separation and the many personal sacrifices going to sea requires. There is also the need to complete ongoing training requirements and the many responsibilities that come with serving in leadership positions.
But I don’t have to tell you that the COVID pandemic has made what were already hard jobs even harder.
MARAD is deeply concerned by studies warning that the stress of being a mariner is taking a stark toll on those who go to sea. 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 are surely worsening already serious crew shortages. MARAD is now working with stakeholders to raise awareness of this issue and to promote ways in which mariners can seek assistance.
Together with our partner agencies, we have compiled information on resources available at no cost to mariners, such as help lines, chaplain and counseling services available during port calls, and other resources to help overcome the stigma that is associated with mental health. The U.S. Committee on the Maritime Transportation System (CMTS) hosts a number of these resources on issues and topics like anxiety, depression, stress, trauma, PTSD, and more on their website.
I especially offer a big thank you to Dr. Jason Zuidema, NAMMA’s Executive Director, who was a panelist participating on the Supporting the Mariner Workforce: COVID-19 and Beyond panel that MARAD convened as part of our 2022 observation of National Maritime Day.
The findings I just referenced, which have been studied by and shared amongst partners like NAMMA, are an important call to action to prioritize the well-being of the mariners—without whom nothing moves at sea. I look forward to continuing to work with you and our many other partners as we work to help address these issues and improve the support available to mariners.
Let me also raise another urgent call to action, and a moment of change we must seize: We must work 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.
As you know, late last year, we paused Sea Year training at the Merchant Marine Academy. We did this so we could strengthen both the measures we require of the vessel operators carrying cadets and our own institutional policies, procedures, and training instructions to improve safety and support a culture of respect.
We must name the problems we seek to eliminate and then fully implement policies and procedures to prevent harassment and assault from happening. We must also remove the barriers that have too often stood in the way of reporting when harassment and assaults have occurred.
I know from my personal experience in the Navy that taking on these challenges requires persistent and dedicated focus to achieve full on cultural change, and that takes time, and unswerving, resolute effort—across all levels of the organization. Within MARAD, we have taken up this challenge.
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—and carriers must adopt these policies before cadets can embark on their vessels.
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 safety for every mariner. That is why we have required these practices to be implemented in vessels’ Safety Management System: to address this as a safety measure for every mariner aboard a vessel.
MARAD’s goal remains ensuring the program truly improves safety and that its requirements are feasible, and value added in the unique environment at sea. All suggestions—your suggestions—for improvements are always—always—welcome.
Ten companies have now enrolled in EMBARC, and we continue to urge every U.S.-flagged carrier to enroll as quickly as possible.
Allow me to note that EMBARC was just one component of the many changes we have made to help combat sexual assault and sexual harassment.
At the Merchant Marine Academy itself, we have also instituted several new policies and procedures to strengthen the support we provide to cadets while they are at sea. For example, we expanded our amnesty policy for misconduct, such as drinking, by survivors, bystander interveners, and witnesses at the time of an assault or harassing incident.
We also issued satellite phones that cadets can use to contact their support networks whenever they want to talk—including not only faculty, staff, and mentors at the Academy, but even their family and friends.
I know full well that we have ways to go, but we are now, and will continue to be, engaged in continuous review to identify areas where policies fall short and improve them. As a first step, we have engaged an expert in sexual assault and harassment prevention and policy development to conduct our first review of our revised Sea Year guide and other Academy policies—as well as EMBARC—and her suggestions are helping to guide our efforts to revise these policies.
That said, to support a meaningful effort to help combat sexual assault and harassment, everyone must make a deliberate commitment—including a commitment of resources—to build trust.
All of you here today have critical roles to play in advancing this effort—and I thank you for the work you have done and will do. The wellbeing of our mariners, and the recruitment and retention of our mariner workforce, require nothing less.
As I mentioned in the beginning, we truly believe the U.S. Merchant Marine has a very bright future—and we know that the merchant marine will continue to be essential to our economic success and our national security.
And as the Maritime Administrator, my door is always open for your recommendations about how we can advance safety for all mariners, strengthen our U.S. merchant marine, and ensure that we always have the sealift our military needs to deliver essential supplies to any shore in the world.
Thank you for all that you do in service to others. Without support provided through NAMMA’s mission, there would be a void as mariners pull into ports across the globe.
Thank you again for your support and the opportunity to join you today!