Can You Dig It?
June 1, 2018
In mid-April, Nancy McLernon, president and CEO of Organization for International Investment, wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal in which she claimed that only a handful of US ports could accommodate “the most modern transport ships.”
She blamed this lack of capacity on a shortage of US dredges, and singled out a 112-year-old law, the Foreign Dredge Act of 1906, as the culprit for our country’s sad state of port capacity.
Ms. McLernon claimed, as an example, that a deepening project at the Port of Savannah was two years late and almost 40 percent over budget, because “US dredging companies simply aren’t capable of meeting demand.”
Ms. McLernon’s organization represents foreign companies doing business in the United States. Among these are well-known players in the commercial maritime industry, including APL, BAE Systems, BP, Maersk, Rolls-Royce and Shell Oil, to name a few. We had previously defended the Dredging industry against another editorial, this one written by a director at the Cato Institute by the name of Daniel Ikenson, who claimed, in 2015, that the same act, coupled with the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act) was preventing ports from preparing for a sudden surge in cargo through the newly-expanded Panama Canal.
At the time we determined there were 555 dredges in the Jones Act fleet, including 330 suction dredges, 198 mechanical dredges and 27 hopper dredges, and we noted that our fleet was easily capable of meeting demand.
In a response to Ms. McLernon’s editorial, William P. Doyle, CEO of the Dredging Contractors of America, said the private-sector US-flagged hopper dredging fleet capacity increased by 34 percent in 2017, “with the addition of two large new-build vessels built in US shipyards by US workers.”
He also refuted Ms. McLernon’s claim that Savannah was late and overly expensive, noting that the Savannah project finished in March, ahead of schedule and under budget.
An email to Ms. McLernon earned a response from the organization’s VP of communications, Jonathan Samford, who was eager to make the discussion about labor policies, but reiterated the claim that the US Army Corps of Engineers is hampered by a lack of floating US equipment.
We reached out to the US Army Corps of Engineers public affairs officer Doug Garman, who reassured us that the existing services would fulfill the current projections of needs. “The addition of the industry’s two new hopper dredges and ocean-going pipeline dredges creates additional capacity that will be used to accomplish new work and other increases,” he says. “As requirements change, we continue to monitor the situation while optimizing scheduling of resources to meet needs.”
We feel confident the US has the dredging capacity it needs, and that US yards will continue to be able to fill future orders without the need for foreign intervention. Ms. McLernon’s editorial showed that she simply doesn’t understand the subject. In this issue we have a good overview of what dredges do, and how, beginning on page 34 of June 2018 Pacific Maritime Magazine. We intend to forward a copy to the Organization for International Investment for their information.
Chris can be reached at email@example.com