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Industry Group Calls on Congress to Close Loophole in Offshore Energy Labor Law

Mike Schuler
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October 31, 2022

An association representing the offshore marine transportation service industry is accusing the developer of the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm of taking advantage of a loophole in U.S. law to use a foreign tugboat and mariners for offshore wind work when American vessels were available.

The Offshore Marine Service Association, representing 120-member companies and 12,000 American workers, is now calling on Congress to pass the American Offshore Worker Fairness Act (AOWFA). The bill was introduced in the Senate in February by U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) to provide “a level playing field between U.S. flagged vessels and foreign-flagged vessels working in offshore energy activities in U.S. waters.”

The AOFWA would require foreign vessels to utilize either U.S. mariners or citizens of the vessel’s home country while operating in offshore energy activities in U.S. waters, a change from the current practice of using foreign workers from low-wage countries that the OMSA says gives them a competitive advantage and takes jobs away from American mariners.

Current law requires that vessels, rigs, platforms, or other offshore structures in the offshore energy industry be manned by U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, but an exemption allows vessels that are more than 50 percent foreign-owned to operate in U.S. waters with foreign crews.

“Offshore wind developers were just handed a multi-billion dollar tax credit from U.S. taxpayers and Vineyard Wind turns around and gives those dollars to Dutch vessel owners and foreign mariners. American offshore energy should mean American jobs and opportunity, unfortunately once again we are seeing offshore developers knowingly skirt American law to save a (taxpayer supported) buck at the expense of American jobs,” said Aaron Smith, OMSA President. “Vineyard Wind has been caught in a lie after telling Congress that they would use U.S. vessels and only use foreign vessels in exceedingly rare circumstances. There are approximately 2,000 U.S. tugs with American crews available today, but instead Vineyard Wind hired the Dutch-flagged vessel NORNE for a minor, every day role while American mariners sit ideally by. This is just one example of offshore developers taking advantage of an unfair loophole allowing foreign flagged vessels to hire crews from low-wage, often adversarial nations, undermining American job and energy creation goals.”

Vineyard Wind, a joint venture between Avangrid Renewables, a subsidiary of AVANGRID (NYSE: AGR), and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP), is developing the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind energy project located over 15 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. The 800 megawatts (MW) project would be capable of powering over 400,000 homes and broke ground in November 2021.

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