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MARAD Sponsors Domestic Shipbuilding Summit on July 16

On Monday, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) and MARAD Administrator Sean Connaughton hosted a shipyard summit in Washington. Over 80 interested parties from the government, industry and Congress met to discuss the state of the domestic shipbuilding industry and explore how to move forward in the current robust markets, in order to prepare for the downturn which is likely to follow. The new initiative, designed by MARAD to improve and sustain domestic shipbuilders, comes on the heels of other high-profile efforts to focus MARAD’s concerns helping the U.S. merchant marine and businesses that keep the administration going.

The Shipyard Conference Agenda included Opening remarks by Maritime Administration Chief Sean Connaughton, Navy RADM Brian M. Salerno (Assistant Commandant for Policy and Planning) and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Nidak Sumream (Director of Amphibious Auxiliary Shipbuilding). An Overview of the international and domestic shipbuilding environment was also given by the American Bureau of Shipping’s Tom Gilmour (President & COO ABS Americas). Other presentations included a host of industry heavyweights, who gave talks focusing on the most pressing problems facing the industry.

It was decided that the biggest challenge facing business today is the shortage of qualified labor in the shipbuilding industries. MARAD pledged to help the industry in alleviating this crisis. The opportunity for attendees to engage in organized, open discussion preceded closing remarks by Congressman Gene Taylor (MS). The meeting represented something of a “kick off” for MARAD to become more actively involved in helping the shipbuilding industry and to form the nucleus of what Sean Connaughton calls, “a long term partnership to meet challenges and to further explore what government and the private sector could be doing to improve and sustain the shipbuilding industry.” Connaughton went to say, “This is a unique time -- there are enormous amounts of recapitalization and newbuilding going on. But, what comes next may be even more important. In five years, we may be looking at overcapacity. What then?”

The meeting touched only peripherally on some hot-button issues and Connaughton would not comment on the ongoing litigation involving foreign, incremental shipyard work on U.S. enrolled tonnage or the use of foreign parts on American tank vessels (think: Aker). “Those matters are in litigation and President Bush does not want to see changes that would weaken the Jones Act,” was all he would say on the divisive issues.

Monday’s meeting was characterized as a first step by Connaughton, and he emphasized that the industry was unanimous in its support of a stronger role by MARAD in shipbuilding matters in the future. The date for a future meeting, which he said was certain to occur, was unclear as MarEx went online. - MarEx