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M/T Empire State, the first ship scheduled to defuel the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, approaches Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Oct. 11, 2023, off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. US DoD photo

The U.S.-flagged M/T Empire State, chartered by the U.S. Department of Defense, approaches Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to begin defueling the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, Oct. 11, 2023. US DoD photo by U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Gabrielle Zagorski

American Maritime Unions Slam Proposal to Operate US-Flag Vessels with Foreign Crews

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 5251
October 23, 2023

A coalition of American maritime and transportation unions have voiced their strong opposition to a proposal to create a secondary U.S. flag fleet that could be manned with foreign crews.

The proposal, put forth by the Hudson Institute, would be part of a broader effort to reform and expand America’s commercial maritime industries to address deficiencies in US sealift capacity, boost the shipbuilding sector, and enhance supply chain security amid increased competition from China.

Titled “Rewriting the Future of America’s Maritime Industry to Compete with China,” the Hudson Institute’s report highlights the challenges faced by American commercial shipbuilders and US flag shipping companies due to the global dominance of foreign companies, particularly from China. The report argues that, given the strategic importance of shipping and shipbuilding to national power and security, the United States must undergo significant policy changes.

One of the suggestions is to increase the US flag commercial fleet engaged in international trade from 85 to 250 vessels, all crewed and controlled by American citizens. The report also introduces the idea of establishing a new, limited second US ship registry with specific requirements, such as US citizen control and crewing from the US or allied nations. While these ships wouldn’t serve as military sealift, the report argues that they would enhance supply chain security and deter gray-zone tactics.

In response to the report, a coalition of unions have issued a joint statement strongly opposing a number of the recommendations contain in the report, which they believe would negatively impact the implementation of existing US maritime policies and the operation of US-flag vessels. The joint statement also criticizes the report for failing to identify solutions that would incentivize the use of US-flag, US-crewed vessels. However, the unions specifically highlight their strong opposition to the establishment of a second US-flag registry.

According to the unions, the US-flag deep-sea fleet is the largest segment of the maritime industry and provides the trained and qualified American mariners required to meet the Department of Defense’s needs during war or international emergencies.The unions stress the importance of the government ensuring there are enough trained and qualified mariners for national security, and argue against using taxpayer dollars to support US-flag vessels that do not contribute to the pool of civilian mariners.

“It is irresponsible to divert U.S. taxpayer dollars to support and to otherwise encourage the operation of U.S.-flag vessels that do not provide the base of employment necessary to increase and support the U.S citizen mariner base. To do so is at best a wasteful use of U.S. taxpayer dollars and at worst, dangerous disregard of America’s national security requirements,” the statement says.

The unions are strongly urging the Biden Administration and Congress to prioritize American maritime workers and firmly reject the proposal to create a second United States-flag registry, which they believe would essentially be a flag of convenience, outsourcing American maritime jobs.

Instead, the unions call on Congress and the Administration to collaborate with them to strengthen and expand the United States-flag fleet, creating more job opportunities for America’s maritime workforce and further enhancing economic, homeland, and military security.

Signatories to the statement include:

  • Mark Clements, Secretary-Treasurer, Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO
  • David Connolly, President, Sailors Union of the Pacific
  • Paul Doell, President, American Maritime Officers
  • David Heindel, President, Seafarers International Union
  • Don Marcus, President, International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots
  • Anthony Poplawski, President, Marine Firemen’s Union
  • Greg Regan, President, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
  • Adam Vokac, President, Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association

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