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Subcommittee Chair Duncan Hunter (left) and Ranking Member John Garamendi listen to testimony.

Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation heard testimony on January 17 reaffirming the vital work performed by the U.S. Merchant Marine from union, government and industry witnesses.

Those called to testify at the hearing entitled “The State of the U.S.-Flag Maritime Industry” spoke out for maintaining the Jones Act and the Maritime Security Program while renewing calls to strengthen the nation’s cargo preference laws.

Opening the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) stated,  “In order for us to maintain the way of life as we know it as a nation that is secure and is able to project power, be it Navy power or commercial power, the Jones Act is intrinsic to that. It is the cornerstone of all of them…the absurdity to have Korean or Chinese or name-your-country made ships take away the entire American workforce of making ships and driving them and getting something from point A to point B in America…it’s absurd and I hope that we keep educating…so that people understand how [the Jones Act] is one of the cornerstones of our entire country’s national security apparatus.”

US Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby emphasizes the security component for the Jones Act.

Following Hunter was Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), the subcommittee’s ranking member, who added, “First and foremost, we cannot become complacent in our defense of the Jones Act and our efforts… to raise public awareness of the need for, and the many benefits that flow, from this long-standing maritime policy that has stood for nearly a century.”

Part of two different panels to appear before the subcommittee, both U.S. Maritime Administrator Mark H. Buzby and Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) Secretary-Treasurer Bill Van Loo emphasized the need for more cargo to keep America’s merchant fleet afloat.

“Cargo is a main factor determining the number of ships in the U.S.-flagged fleet, and the number of ships then influences the number of mariners who are available to run those ships and maintain a strong, resilient U.S. Merchant Marine,” Buzby declared.

In his prepared remarks on behalf of MEBA, the American Maritime Officers, Masters Mates & Pilots, and the Seafarers Union, Van Loo pointed out, “It is very simple. Without cargo, our ships do not and our mariners do not stand by.”

MEBA Sec-Treas Bill Van Loo reminds legislators that merchant mariners have always answered the nation’s call.

Both Buzby and Van Loo (along with the other witnesses) reiterated their organizations’ support for the Jones Act, the nation’s freight cabotage law.

“Coastwise trade laws promote a strong and vibrant U.S. domestic maritime industry, which helps the United States maintain its expertise in shipbuilding and maritime transportation,” Buzby noted. “The Jones Act also ensures that vessels navigating on a daily basis among and between U.S. coastal ports and vulnerable inland waterways are operating with U.S. documentation and crew rather than under a foreign flag with foreign crew.

“Those [American] mariners are a de facto layer of our national security,” Buzby added.

“And the Jones Act makes that possible, period” Hunter interjected. “Yes, sir,” responded Buzby.

That same theme was provided during opening remarks by Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), “[The Jones Act] isn’t just about employment and the economy, it’s about national security implications…It’s important that we do keep this on the front burner.”

During his testimony, U.S Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Nadeau stated, “Security is very important…and that would be a different paradigm should that not all be us, U.S. mariners, U.S. citizens on board those ships.” (Nadeau is the assistant commandant for prevention policy.)

Others appearing before the subcommittee included Eric Ebeling, president and CEO for American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier; Matt Woodruff, chairman of American Maritime Partnership; Matthew Paxton, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America; and Aaron Smith, president and CEO of the Offshore Marine Service Association.