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U.S. Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Elaine Luria (D-VA) are reminding fellow members of Congress that the U.S. Merchant Marine is vital to national, economic and homeland security.

Luria on May 5 hosted a press call featuring Hoyer along with American maritime industry leaders, including SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez; Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association President Marshall Ainley; American Maritime Officers National Vice President Christian Spain; MTD Executive Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Duncan; Maersk Line, Limited President Bill Woodhour, and several others.

Luria and Hoyer said they are pushing to include U.S.-flag shipping in upcoming stimulus packages stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, they are urging that participants in the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP) receive additional stipends. They also recommend increasing American-flag carriage of preference cargoes, and upholding the Jones Act.

Tellez, MTD Executive Board Member, thanked both Luria and Hoyer for their continued and steadfast support of the maritime industry, describing them as “staunch allies.” His remarks focused on American mariners rather than the laws and programs that keep Old Glory flying on the oceans, lakes and waterways.

“Our members play a vital role in keeping commerce flowing,” Tellez stated. “We’re the folks on the front lines of this crisis, ensuring that the nation’s economic and national security are protected and defended.”

He added, “Our folks don’t get to go home at night. They are doing a job, many of them well beyond their normal tour of duty. They know the importance of what they do, and they are dedicated. On behalf of the unsung heroes of the U.S. Merchant Marine, thank you for everything you do for us.”

Luria recently sent a letter to U.S. House and Senate leaders asking for their support of American-flag ships and their crews.

Expounding on that communication, she said during the call that a drop-off in both government cargo and commercial cargo means it’s the right time to boost the MSP. “This program is an essential part of our national security,” she stated, and then added her ongoing backing of the Jones Act and cargo preference.

Hoyer said the pandemic should remind everyone about the importance of maintaining U.S. manufacturing capabilities, American jobs – and a strong U.S.-flag maritime industry.

“The maritime industry is an absolutely critical component of our national security infrastructure,” he stated. “COVID-19 has put a lot of our capabilities at risk. One thing it has made clear is the critical need to make things in America. It’s incumbent upon us to maintain our maritime capacity…. If we do not invest in keeping our maritime industry and our sailors ready to go, we will be in real trouble. This is not an optional investment.”

He said the maritime industry “is facing the same problems every other business in America has run into. This industry is a national security priority – both the ships and the personnel are critically important. We need to make sure they have the resources to be sustained.”

Hoyer also pointed out that Luria’s active-duty service in the U.S. Navy helps make her “a perfect advocate and somebody who has a deep knowledge of the vital role civilian mariners play.”

Lastly, he expressed “great pride” in the mariners who train and upgrade at the Seafarers facility located within his district. “They are a wonderful example of how industry and labor work together. The school is one of the great training centers in our country, and maybe in the world. Augie Tellez and the other leaders of our merchant marine are a critical component of our community.”

Woodhour said the decline in cargoes “shows no realistic sign of ending anytime in the near future.” He is concerned that the mariner pool will dwindle, and said the proposed additional stipend will help avoid layups and layoffs, even though it’s not a long-term solution.

“We stand beside our friends in maritime labor,” Woodhour said.

Later, when answering a reporter’s question, Woodhour pointed out that many other countries heavily subsidize different sectors of their maritime industries, on a scale that dwarfs anything done in the U.S.

Luria wrapped up the call by conveying her “thanks to civilian mariners. We will keep pushing to support the MSP and the other things that make the U.S. Merchant Marine continue to be a viable, important part of our economy and our national defense.”