The U.S.-flag maritime industry took some important steps forward in the Fiscal Year 2016 omnibus spending package passed by wide margins in both the House and the Senate, then signed into law by President Obama on December 18.
The Maritime Security Program (MSP) received an increase. U.S.-flag companies whose vessels are included in the program will see their stipend go up to $3.5 million per ship. A total of 60 vessels are part of the MSP, which, since 1996, provides an annual cash outlay to companies whose infrastructure and militarily useful U.S.-flag, U.S.-crewed vessels are available during times of national emergencies or war.
In addition, the omnibus package authorized a further increase to $5 million per ship starting in Fiscal Year 2017. However, authorization for such funding must be acquired annually, as has been the case since the MSP became law.
Analysis by several sources of the 2,009-page, $1.1 trillion budget measure revealed no hidden attacks on the Jones Act, the nation’s freight cabotage law. There had been some rumors on Capitol Hill that an attempt to weaken the Jones Act might be attempted.
“We are very pleased with the results of this legislation,” stated MTD President Michael Sacco. “It reasserts the importance of the MSP and the Jones Act for the economic and national security of our nation.”
The budget package approved $5 million for the Maritime Administration’s Marine Highway Program. Proposed in 2007, the program seeks to establish a system of short sea shipping – to be utilized by Jones Act vessels – along the nation’s coast and inland waters.
As was widely reported in the media, the measure lifted the 40-year ban on the export of domestic crude oil but did not contain any provisions on how the petroleum should be moved.