THE monopoly- and subsidy-pampered shipping industry had better
batten down the hatches. Free-market forces are building on the
Under way in Washington are efforts to scuttle laws that dictate
who may build, own, and operate the merchant and passenger ships
that ply United States waters. And federal subsidies that allow
US-flag ships to compete in international waters could run aground
as House Republicans concentrate on balancing the budget. All of
this alarms those who benefit from the status quo.
Tampering with the fleet's protections will "take away a lot of
jobs for American mariners" and harm military readiness, warns
Daniel Duncan, a spokesman for the Seafarers International Union
But the shipping industry's century-old arguments about
employment and national security no longer float, skeptics say.
They insist that the dwindling US fleet has few shipboard jobs -
perhaps a few thousands - left to protect. Competition will create
more jobs throughout the economy, they say, and save the Treasury
$21 billion over seven years.
They also scoff at the notion that a cargo fleet is vital to
resupply a US war effort. "The laughable part of that is, when the
Gulf war came, only six of those ships went directly into the war,"
says Rob Quartel, a former maritime regulator who wants to harpoon
a school of shipping laws.
Among the developments both sides are watching:
*The House may soon vote on the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of
1995. This bill would abolish the Federal Maritime Commission,
whose role in regulating international shipping amounts to helping
a cartel of mostly foreign companies maintain artificially high
prices, Mr. Quartel says. If the FMC sinks beneath the waves, rate
wars could follow.
*The Marine Security Act has advanced in the Senate but faces
entrenched opposition by budget-minded Republicans in the House.
The bill would give millions of dollars in subsidies to the
international operations of a single US-flag carrier, giant
Sea-Land to help it compete with foreign carriers. Other US-flag
carriers, already subsidized under a law that expires in 1997, hope
to be added to the MSA by then, Quartel says.
*By year end, the Coast Guard will review its new procedure for
doling out the "z-card," a document enabling merchant mariners to
work. For 58 years, the Coast Guard granted them only to bearers of
"letters of commitment" from an employer. …