U.S. Maritime Industry Just Barely Treading Water

By Johnson, Tom | Risk Management, November 1989 | Go to article overview

U.S. Maritime Industry Just Barely Treading Water


Johnson, Tom, Risk Management


U.S. Maritime Industry Just Barely Treating Water American shipbuilding capabilities and the U.S. maritime industry are in a state of "tragic decline," according to Rep. Jack Fields (R--TX), and the only way to reverse the trend is through legislative and administrative action.

Speaking to a crowd of between 900 and 1,000 attendess--the largest ever--at the 24 Annual Houston Marine Insurance Seminar, Rep. Fields said that our merchant fleet, once the largest in the world, has declined from more than 1,300 ships to fewer than 450 today. By contrast, the Soviet Union's merchant marine totals more than 2,500 vessels. "In addition, despite the fact that the United States is the largest trading nation in the world, our market share of international trade transported by U.S.-flag vessels has declined dramatically, from over 50 percent in 1945 to less than 5 percent today," he said.

Rep. Fields said the decline is borne out by the fact that the Soviet Union carries more U.S. cargo overseas than American ships. "In fact," Rep. Fields exclaimed, "Soviet ships carry nearly 50 percent of all mail postmarked in the United States, while our domestic carriers transport a mere 12 percent of it. I think that is a national disgrace!"

Two other areas that Rep. Fields discussed as indicative of America's maritime decline include the decreased number of active American Shipyards and shipping companies. "In 1982, 110 privately-owned shipyards operated in the country, and they employed 112,000 people. By the end of 1988, the number of active yards had fallen to 69 and employment had dropped by more than 28 percent to 80,000 workers," he said. "Likewise, in 1970, There were 18 major U.S. shipping companies. Now there are four." In addition, Rep. Fields said that the number of shipboard jobs in the U.S. fleet has droped from over 99,000 at the end of World War II to fewer than 13,000 today. "Without trained seafarers," he said, "this nation is in serious peril for the future."

Maritime Measures

In the search for plausible remedies to America's maritime decline, Rep. Fields cited the Shipping Act of 1984 and the Cargo Preference Compromise of 1985 as the type of relief measures and incentives that the indusry must have in the future. In addition, Congress spent a considerable amount of time last year discussing H.R. 1841, the so-called Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety and Compensation Act of 1988.

"While we were unable to complete work on the liability insurance reform provisions of that legislation, we did require that a number of new safety features be onboard most fishing, fish tender and fish processing vessels," Rep. Fields said.

Such ships must now be equipped with lifeboats, emergency-position indicating radio beacons, exposure suits and certain radio, navigation and first-aid equipment. "It is my sincere hope that these new requirements will greatly reduce the number of fatalities that have faced our nation's most dangerous industry--commercial fishing," he said.

Other needed maritime measures cited by Rep. Fields include full enforcement of U.S. cargo preference laws. "Instead of working to find ways to avoid putting cargo on U.S.-flag vessels, our Military Sealift Command and all other federal agencies must work to find ways to make our cargo preference laws work," he said. "We are a nation of laws. What the U.S. maritime industry is asking for is not special consideration or favors but simply a fair and accurate interpretation of laws which have been on the books for over 80 years."

A 'Shifting Sea of Sand'

In view of the fact that every $1 billion of exports creates an estimated 35,000 maritime jobs, Rep. Fields believes that the future health of the U.S. maritime industry depends on increasing the amount of cargo carried on the U.S.-flagged vessels. "Cargo is the lifeblood of the maritime industry, and we must do everything we can to ensure that U.

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