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Maritime Unions Call on NATO to Boost Merchant Marine Investment

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 0
July 9, 2024

A coalition of maritime unions from NATO member states has issued a joint statement urging the alliance to increase investment in the merchant marine, which is deemed crucial to counter rising adversaries and protect nations during times of crisis.

The call comes as NATO marks its 75th anniversary, highlighting the critical role of merchant navies in national resilience, security, and defence amid rising geopolitical tensions.

The unions, representing merchant seafarers across several NATO countries, emphasized the current volatile geopolitical landscape, pointing to the war in Ukraine, escalating violence in the Middle East, and efforts by other nations to dominate the high seas. They warned that the alarming decline in the number of qualified merchant seafarers and national-flagged merchant vessels significantly jeopardizes NATO’s obligations to its members.

Professor Geoffrey Till, former Head of Defence Studies at King’s College London, underscored the issue, stating, “A healthy merchant marine and secure sea lines of communication are essential for national security in peace and war.”

Recent studies have spotlighted vulnerabilities in the United States’ maritime sector, which is heavily reliant on foreign-flagged ships and faces a shrinking merchant shipping capability and shipbuilding capacity. The issue is not confined to the USA; the United Kingdom and other traditional maritime nations within NATO have experienced similar declines for decades.

The proliferation of flags of convenience, such as those of Panama, Liberia, and the Marshall Islands, has weakened national merchant marines across Europe. Many states are currently facing historic lows in seafarer numbers and national-flagged merchant vessels.

The unions argued that diminished merchant marines and a shortage of qualified officers and ratings impair the collective and individual abilities to support military logistics and secure essential supply chains for energy, food, and medical supplies during conflicts and health emergencies. This decline poses severe risks with potentially disastrous consequences.

The statement calls on NATO member governments to use the 75th anniversary milestone to commit to significant investment in maritime capabilities, strengthen their merchant marines, and invest in maritime professionals. The unions advocate for a coalition of like-minded maritime nations to work together to increase the number of qualified merchant seafarers and national registered vessels, end incentives for flags of convenience, and stop the exploitation of foreign crews.

The joint statement was signed by:

  • Nautilus International (UK & Netherlands)
  • ACV-Transcom (Belgium)
  • CFDT: Union Fédérale Maritime (France)
  • Danish Maritime Officers
  • Finnish Engineers’ Association ry
  • Finnish Ship’s Officers’ Union
  • International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots (USA)
  • Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (USA)
  • Norwegian Union of Marine Engineers
  • Seafarers’ Union of Croatia
  • Sjöbefälsföreningen Maritime Officers’ Association (Sweden)

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