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U.S. economic and security interests will be enhanced if the federal government is successful in devising a forward-looking policy of maritime development.

That is the message U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) delivered in an impassioned column carried in the Washington Times on May 9. Hunter is the chair of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee.

“National and global interests – for America, in particular – are inextricably linked to the seas. With oceans covering 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, they are just as important now as they were centuries ago when exploration and discovery were possible only by setting sail.

“Not only is this a time to preserve our history, it’s also an opportunity to recommit to America’s maritime industry. In the process, preserving what works—such as the Maritime Security Program and the Jones Act—will go a long way, but it’s equally important that we explore new avenues such as short sea shipping, the liquefied-natural-gas trade and an improved ship financing program, all of which can be accomplished through a national maritime strategy.”

According to Hunter, despite America’s proud maritime heritage, we are living in an era when many fail to grasp the industry’s importance. America was founded as a seafaring nation. So it is not surprising that the country’s rise to world prominence was tied to the strength of its maritime industry. Many things have changed during the centuries since the founding, but not this. As the title of Hunter’s column implies, “Keeping America Afloat” is tied to the growing importance of world trade and the need to maintain a viable sealift capability.

The facts speak for themselves. “The magnitude of commerce dependent on shipping alone is staggering,” Duncan writes. “Approximately 75 percent of global commerce moves by water and the volume of international trade by vessel will only climb.”

However, he claims the U.S. government has failed to devise and implement a fully comprehensive and effective maritime policy. Worse, if left unchecked, this failure will have severe adverse consequences.

Citing Fred Harris, president of union-contracted General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. (NASSCO), Hunter cautions, “Without a renewed commitment to the Jones Act, the United States could lose its shipbuilding capability, the same way the United Kingdom lost theirs. In 1963, almost 20 percent of the world’s commercial tonnage was built in the United Kingdom, but they have not constructed a commercial oceangoing vessel in nearly a decade, leading the Ministry of Defense to recently award a contract for military tankers to a South Korean shipyard.”

In other words, there is a connection between a nation’s maritime policy, its shipping and shipbuilding capability and its ability to remain both a military and economic power.

“American definitely has a proud maritime past. Together, let’s vow to have more firsts in our maritime future.”