John McCain wants to outsource America’s merchant marine.
The cantankerous Arizona Senator has added an amendment to the bipartisan-supported Keystone XL Pipeline legislation, destined for President Obama’s desk later this month, to eviscerate the Merchant Marine Act of 1920.
Senator McCain was a war hero who served with honor and, in the face of brutal adversity, refused early release from a Vietnam POW camp, maintaining that those captured before him should be released first.
While we admire the Senator’s patriotism as well as his loyalty to his brother POWs, his comprehension of US maritime operations is sketchy at best.
Senator McCain’s home state is a landlocked desert, known for an impressive ravine and many golf courses, but few shipyards. The Senator might be excused for forgetting that most of the country is bordered by four oceans and several really big lakes, and intersected by important rivers. These waterways support the trade that provides most of what we eat, wear and drive.
The US Maritime Administration says Jones Act vessels typically handle more than one billion tons of cargo annually, including petroleum, coal, iron ore and grain, as well as high value containerized products to Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. In 2010, the Jones-Act fleet supporting this massive inland and ocean trade represented more than $41 billion in private investment.
Late last month, congressman Adam Smith (D, WA), said, “The Jones Act is an important law that promotes a robust domestic maritime industry that helps to ensure our national security, while also providing for 500,000 US jobs and producing over $100 billion dollars in economic output. Any attempt to repeal or weaken this law would be harmful to our national security and our economy.”
Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel recently wrote that shipbuilder Boysie Bollinger, former finance chairman of the Louisiana Republican party, appeared in an ad promoting Democrat Senator Mary Landrieu, saying, “Louisiana can’t afford to lose Mary Landrieu.”
Mr. Bollinger builds ships for the Jones-Act, including barges capable of carrying up to 240,000 barrels of oil in safe, modern and US Coast Guard-inspected double hulls. Oilfield lift vessels built by Mr. Bollinger’s yards in Louisiana include platforms certified by the world’s most stringent safety inspectors to work safely in depths of up to 180 feet in up to 80 mph winds.
Up the coast from Mr. Bollinger’s yards, at VT Halter Marine in Pascagoula, Mississippi, the keel was recently laid for the first of two liquefied natural gas (LNG)-powered, combination container – roll-on/roll-off (con/ro) ships for Crowley Maritime Corp.’s liner services group. The 2,400-TEU Commitment-class vessels, which will serve the Jones-Act US-Puerto Rico trade, will be powered by LNG and will offer a 100-percent reduction in sulphur oxide (SOx) and particulate matter (PM), and a 92-percent reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx) over conventional vessels.
On this coast, San Diego’s General Dynamics NASSCO Shipyard started construction last year on the first of two 3,100-TEU dual-fuel container ships for Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE), Inc. The double-hulled Jones-Act ships, also destined for the Puerto Rico trade, will operate on either fuel oil or gas derived from LNG. Delivery of the first ship is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2015, with the second expected in early 2016.
In addition to the TOTE vessels, NASSCO is now under contract for the design and construction of eight Jones-Act tankers: five for American Petroleum Tankers and three for Seabulk Tankers, Inc.
All of these ships, built by US workers in US yards for operation in US waters, are essential to the health and safety of our nation and make up the Jones Act fleet – a fleet of vessels that Senator McCain would like to see replaced by less expensive vessels, built offshore to lower safety standards and operated by foreign crew.
Perhaps it’s time for Senator McCain, who will be 80 years old this year, to retire from ‘public service’ and work on his golf.