National Maritime Day: The Tipping Point

Merchant Marine
Merchant Mariners aboard the Military Sealift Command fast-combat support ship USNS Rainier signal to sailors on board the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill during a replenishment at sea.

By MarEx 2016-05-23 02:57:56

The Merchant Marines predate both the U.S. Coast Guard (1790) and the U.S. Navy (1797), but as the industry celebrates National Maritime Day in 2016, all is not well. 

Participating in the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space exposition this month, Paul “Chip” Jaenichen, Maritime Administrator for the U.S. Maritime Administration, described the U.S. sealift fleet as being “at a tipping point” and the U.S. maritime presence as “at the lowest level in our history.”

Jaenichen said there are only 79 U.S.-flagged ships remaining in international trade, a 25 percent drop over the last three years. “We are moving less than two percent of our nearly 1.4 billion tons of U.S. imports and exports annually on U.S.-flagged ships. And most of our commodities coming to the United States are carried on foreign vessels with allegiance to other foreign countries.

“The Maritime Administration currently estimates that we have barely enough – and I emphasize, barely enough – qualified mariners to crew existing fleets of government sealift and also U.S.-flagged commercial sealift vessels, to provide both the surge and the sustainment of our armed forces if we go longer than four to six months.” 

Jaenichen said that nearly 80 years of inattention and neglect dating back to 1936 has led the Maritime Administration to begin development of a new National Maritime Strategy. The strategy is currently in draft form.

From the U.S. Coast Guard

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Paul Thomas, assistant commandant for prevention policy, paid tribute to the Merchant Marine, saying: “The Coast Guard is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s ports and waterways – but we do not do that alone; we depend on mariners’ cooperation and support. Their hard work is vital to our economy and the strength of our nation.”

He also mentioned the El Faro tragedy: “Our dedication to ensuring mariner safety is unwavering – the Coast Guard is diligently investigating the El Faro incident in hopes that the findings will bring tangible outcomes that will allow us to minimize these incidents in the future. Today, tomorrow, and every day, I thank mariners for the work they do, I greatly appreciate their professionalism and dedication to our nation,” he said.

“The mariners’ role in driving the U.S. – and global – economies has far-reaching impacts. Each and every day, merchant mariners make unrivaled contributions to our nation and our nation’s economy. According to the American Association of Port Authorities, 23.1 million jobs are supported by U.S. coastal seaports. In addition, marine cargo transportation generated $4.6 trillion work of economic activity and contributed 26 percent to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2015. Those numbers speak for themselves,” said Thomas.

President’s Proclamation

President Barack Obama released the following proclamation to commemorate National Maritime Day 2016:

Since America's founding, proud mariners have selflessly dedicated themselves to protecting and advancing our interests -- here at home and around the world. The patriots of the United States Merchant Marine have long served as our Nation's "fourth arm of defense," safeguarding the ideals that have guided our country for more than two centuries. They facilitate the transport and trade of American goods, and they put their lives on the line in times of war. On National Maritime Day, we honor our Merchant Mariners and celebrate their irreplaceable role in shaping our Nation's narrative.

Whether in still or raging waters, Merchant Mariners are fundamental to guaranteeing the delivery of essential goods to far-reaching corners of our globe. These seafarers have bravely faced threats at home and abroad -- including combatants and pirates, disease outbreaks and natural disasters -- and they consistently heed the call to serve their fellow Americans. In World War II, their ships carried troops and much-needed support to the battlefield, thousands making the ultimate sacrifice. They were among the first to see battle, and many were among the last to return home to our shores.

Carrying forward a legacy that spans generations, the United States Merchant Marine is vital to our Nation's economic security as well. Their transportation of vital cargo has impacts far beyond America's borders, generating trillions of dollars of economic activity each year. And when our entrepreneurs decide to embark on new ventures across oceans, mariners stand by and protect their pursuit of the American dream through tireless work to cultivate safe and open waterways. On this day, and every day, let us express our sincere gratitude to these courageous men and women for all they do for our Nation, and let us reaffirm our commitment to support them as they continue to uphold their proud tradition of service.

The Congress, by a joint resolution approved May 20, 1933, has designated May 22 of each year as "National Maritime Day," and has authorized and requested the President to issue annually a proclamation calling for its appropriate observance.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 22, 2016, as National Maritime Day. I call upon the people of the United States to mark this observance and to display the flag of the United States at their homes and in their communities. I also request that all ships sailing under the American flag dress ship on this day.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.


The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.