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MTD Board Member Augie Tellez (right) speaks before the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee while fellow Board Member Mike Jewell listens.

MTD Board Member Augie Tellez (right) speaks before the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee while fellow Board Member Mike Jewell listens.

Witnesses – including two MTD board members – testifying before a House subcommittee called upon members of Congress to support the U.S.-flag merchant fleet for the nation’s economic and defensive security.

“We’ve been a critical component of our country’s economic and national security from the founding days of the Republic,” declared MTD Board Member Augie Tellez, who also serves as executive vice president of the Seafarers International Union. “We are always there when the balloon goes up and we hope to be there whenever the balloon goes up. In order to do that, we need to have the strong foundation of a vibrant commercial fleet. In order to maintain that, it must be a public-private partnership.”

Tellez was speaking on May 21 before the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee.

The panel’s chair, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), opened by noting, “Beyond the important contributions to our economy, a healthy maritime industry is vital to our national security. Throughout our history, the Navy has relied on U.S.-flag commercial vessels crewed by American merchant mariners to carry troops, weapons and supplies to the battlefield.”

The chair and members of the subcommittee informed the witnesses they were interested in finding ways to help vital U.S.-flag efforts like the Food for Peace (PL-480) Program, the Maritime Security Program, the Jones Act and others. “We really have all the elements of a strategic plan. They’re just not pulled together in a way that directs the U.S. government. What else do we need to do?” asked Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), the subcommittee’s ranking member.

Tellez responded by saying Congress could show its support if it would “really put some teeth into the laws that exist.” He added that legislators should adopt a multi-decade strategy for the industry rather than move it along one year at a time.

Tellez was joined at the witness table by fellow MTD Board Member Mike Jewell.

“History has proven and policymakers have recognized that it is in the best interest of the United States to maintain and support a strong U.S. merchant marine,” stated Jewell, who is the president of the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association.

Emphasizing the need for the U.S.-flag fleet and its well-trained American mariners was Gen. William Fraser, the head of the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM).

“The maintenance of a merchant marine is critical to our ability to meet the requirements we’ve laid out,” Fraser told the subcommittee. “They would man those ships for us in a time of national response. Our total force team of men and women, both military and civilian, are dedicated to providing reliable, seamless, logistical support to our war fighters and their families around the globe. USTRANSCOM could not accomplish this without the capability provided by the United States strategic sealift fleet and our steadfast merchant mariners.”

Also testifying before the panel were the president of union-contract NASSCO shipyard Fred Harris, Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari, and Joseph Pyne, CEO of Kirby Corporation.