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Members of the Hawaii Ports Maritime Council gather May 19 with Honolulu Mayer Rick Blangiardi as he presented the city’s recognition of National Maritime Day. This was the PMC’s first in-person meeting since the pandemic started last year.

The United States celebrated the men and women of the U.S. merchant marine during the 88th annual National Maritime Day on May 20.

While the efforts of those who sailed before and those who sail today were acknowledged, several speakers reiterated their strong endorsement for the nation’s freight cabotage law – the Jones Act.

“This administration is firmly committed to the Jones Act which President Biden has called the cornerstone of our domestic industry,” declared U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“Programs like the Maritime Security Program, the Jones Act and the new Tanker Security Program are important to insure access to industry capabilities for defense needs,” added Gen. Stephen Lyons, the head of the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM).

These strong words of support came a week after foreign-flag interests attempted to gain waivers to the law during the Colonial Pipeline shutdown, which affected the delivery of petroleum products across the South and Mid-Atlantic for just over one week. The U.S.-flag maritime industry closely worked with the White House to make sure cargo would be delivered and the Jones Act would remain secure.

In his first Maritime Day remarks as the head of the Transportation Department, Buttigieg, a Navy veteran, acknowledged the hardship incurred by those at sea during the pandemic.

“I know that those aboard merchant vessels have felt over the course of the past year that there may have been no end in sight. And, yet, that didn’t stop our merchant mariners and maritime industry workers from helping to steer the entire country through the challenging waters that we’ve been in,” he noted. 

“I can think of no better tribute to the merchant mariners and maritime workers that we celebrate today than to work to honor these jobs and to make sure these jobs are safe and secure. It’s why the president’s plan so strongly supports measures to make sure that the goods and materials, infrastructure investments are made in America, shipped on U.S.-flag, U.S.-crewed vessels.”

While General Lyons also saluted the efforts of those who worked at sea, on the docks and within the industry to keep the country moving during the coronavirus fight, he praised their work to keep the nation secure.

“As the TRANSCOM commander, I recognize the important role the U.S.-flag maritime industry plays in our nation’s defense: a Naval auxiliary in peace and in war, contributing qualified mariners, military useful vessels and access to global trade networks,” Lyons stated. “This is why TRANSCOM and [the Defense Department] remain strong advocates for a healthy U.S.-flag maritime industry.”

Adding his agency’s support during the virtual ceremony was the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Adm. Karl Schultz.

He pointed out that the Coast Guard recognizes “all of our credentialed U.S. merchant mariners who form the backbone of the marine transportation system. Throughout this pandemic, America’s highly professional merchant mariners kept products moving to ensure our stores were stocked with medical and critical supplies. Last year, the Coast Guard made sure these marine operators were categorized as ‘essential workers’ because annually they enable $5.4 trillion of economic activity that Americans depend on.”

Opening the ceremony was Acting Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley who said the ceremony’s theme of America’s Maritime Workforce – Connecting the Nation and the World “reminds us how vital waterborne commerce remains and how essential the men and the women who daily face the challenges of this industry are to keeping our economy strong and to supporting national defense. The success of our economy is inextricably linked to the success of our maritime industry.”

Federal Maritime Commission Chairman Daniel Maffei recalled how the “people working throughout the supply chain made sure that food, medicine, personal protective equipment, ventilators and eventually vaccines got to where they needed to be.”

President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the initial National Maritime Day on May 22, 1933, to commemorate the first successful crossing of a steam-powered vessel – the U.S.-flag SS Savannah – across the Atlantic on that date in 1819.