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Remarks as Prepared

Mark H. Buzby

Maritime Administrator

Ft. Lauderdale Mariners Club Marine Seminar

October 29, 2019


Thank you, Counselor for that kind introduction. You are getting pretty good at it!


As Jim said, we go back a long way, and friendships such as ours is something that I’ve really come to treasure as I reach this point in my life.


Thanks very much to the Mariners Club offices and committee for the invitation to come speak with you today. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be down here beyond the Washington beltway to spend time with folks like you who are focused on strengthening America’s maritime industry, and in fact are the maritime industry.


I’ve enjoyed getting to meet many of you, and the comradery and sense of family that I get from being among you is the very same that I’ve experienced while hanging around the docks since I began my boating career at age 8 in the Atlantic City, New Jersey area. Been boating ever since!


I must start by telling you how lucky we are to have someone like my boss, Elaine L. Chao as our Secretary of Transportation. Every issue I’m going to talk about today, she’s been deeply involved in and has pressed for new policies and investments that will advance our industry. We are so lucky to have her at the helm today.


As Secretary Chao would tell you, safety is priority one at the department of transportation—that goes for every mode of transportation, from our skies above to our pipelines below and up and down every road to every port and across the oceans.


At MARAD, we of course are very focused on advancing the cause of safety for commercial operations in a dynamic environment that is demanding and filled with some of the largest and most complex moveable objects on earth. The same environment that recreational boaters operate in.


I wonder how many people think about that environment as the come be-bopping down the dock in their flip-flops and hop aboard their sea-rays and hit the waterways with the family aboard?


I think that all of us would agree that safe operations - be it in an ocean-going commercial vessel, a naval vessel, a mega-yacht, or the family Searay - begins with proper education, training, and seasoned by experience. All those things help equip an operator to identify, assess, and avoid - or mitigate risk. 


At sea and ashore, the dangers are many and life and property are at stake. This audience knows this well. You need only pay passing attention to the headlines to know that despite all the modern technology, accidents and incidents continue to occur with alarming frequency, and I point to the GOLDEN RAY capsize in Brunswick, the CONCEPTION DIVE boat fire on the west coast, recent collisions involving two different Navy destroyers, and the spate of fires on containerships as evidence. And this audience in particular sees a bunch more in the recreational world.


While we do not have a regulatory function at MARAD – that’s the responsibility of the Coast Guard, assisted by regulatory bodies such as classification societies like ABS, DNV, and others – we do play heavily in the education and training world, working closely with the coast guard.


So, our focus on safety begins with training and education of our commercial mariners.


We’re focused on every level: from maritime high schools that spark a love for the sea, to community colleges training welders, shipwrights and deck crew, to our state maritime academies and to kings point where Jim and I trained, which prepare the highly-skilled mariners who will keep ship and crew safe and support America’s national and economic security.


It starts with maritime high schools, which can help springboard a young person to a career at sea, just as Admiral Farragut academy did for me many years ago. That work is underway at over 60 maritime high schools across the country, including mast academy in Miami, Jacksonville’s Bluewater Maritime School, and many others near ports and maritime commercial centers like New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Houston, San Diego, and my home port of Norfolk. I’ve visited many of them, and it always energizes me to see young folks catching sea fever.


Yesterday, I visited one of the premier maritime training facilities in the country—the Star Center in Dania. We heard from Graham Holman from the Star Center earlier this morning. It’s a fantastic facility run by the AMO maritime union. They train and recertify a good chunk of our seagoing officers.


Our approach to maritime education also recognizes that, for the strength of our industry, what happens at the port or shipyard is just as important as what happens at sea. Community colleges across the country, including several here in Florida, are preparing the high-skilled welders, marine technicians, and others who help keep our fleet and the recreational industry afloat and advancing technology development.


We’re working toward recognizing the efforts of leading community colleges and maritime training schools through the “Centers of Excellence for Domestic Maritime Workforce Training and Education Program.”


It’s a bit of a course change, as it extends the maritime administration’s role beyond the traditional “blue water” mariner to include recognition and support for the “brown water” operations and other shore-based maritime workforce needs. The developing shortage of workers in these sectors has been documented by the departments of education, labor, and transportation. We need to address it. The centers of excellence program will establish formal relationships from which we can build greater cooperation and support.


This is particularly important as we look to better develop our Nation’s “mariner highways” to carry a larger burden of the surface transportation needs. Our roads and railroads are nearing capacity. We must get back afloat!


We’re keeping focus on our foundational mariner training programs too. We’re making much needed new infrastructure investments at the 76-year old U.S Merchant Marine Academy, and in our six state maritime academies, the most visible evidence of which is a new training ship, national security multi-mission vessel, or NSMV.


MARAD provides the training ships for those schools, and we’ve been working on replacing that aging fleet for more than a decade. Congress has now fully funded two ships; and we believe Congress will likely fund a third ship in the 2020 budget – if one ever gets passed.


If all goes well, we’ll be investing nearly a billion dollars in three new, U.S.-built Jones Act-compliant ships that in fact are multi-mission: as training platforms to help prepare our next generation of deck officers and engineers, but also as emergency disaster response vessels designed to support FEMA efforts to transport equipment supplies, and serve as a command and control asset post-disaster.


So why is this so important? As some of you may or may not know, the U.S. Merchant Marine performs a very unique mission in addition to its peacetime commerce role, and that is military sealift.


And by sealift, I mean the movement of our armed forces and all the sustainment that goes to support them to wherever in the world we need to operate. Our commercial, voluntarily-manned U.S. flag merchant marine has that job – all 82 of them. That’s where we are today.


In fact, of the more than 50,000 large, ocean-going merchant ships of all nations currently sailing internationally, only 82 are flying the us flag. That puts us at number 22 in the world in terms of large, oceangoing merchant ships.


Just to give you an idea, when Jim and I were first going to sea as cadets in the mid-70’s, we had 569 ships under us flag.


As a hedge, the U.S. government owns a group of 46 cargo ships – mostly roll on roll off ships called the ready reserve force, which are scattered around 10 different ports and maintained with 9-person skeleton crews in a 5-day readiness status. They are there to provide a core of initial surge sealift, again, crewed by volunteer, civilian mariners – the same ones who operate commercial ships in peacetime. We could not effectively deploy our forces to defend this nation without those merchant mariners.


I have confidence in our merchant marine to get the job done – but just. I do have real concerns when it comes to the vessels of the RRF, which average more than 44-years old. As anyone who maintains an older vessel knows, the older she gets the more expensive it is to maintain her. Congress has recently gotten this issue on its scope and, with the navy’s recapitalization strategy, we believe we can get the RRF where it needs to be. But the pace is too slow; that does need to be addressed.


The bottom line is this: without a strong and growing fleet of U.S. commercial vessels operating in peacetime, and more importantly, without the civilian mariners who crew them, America’s military sealift effort would be dead in the water.


That’s why many of us are speaking up about the state U.S. flag shipping and its relationship to our national defense. I for one, believe that we must be making the right investments in our commercial fleet as the only way to really sustain a government reserve sealift fleet.


A major part of that investment comes through the Jones Act. 


Now, I know there will be some differences of opinion in this room when it comes to the Jones Act. But, my position is clear: the Jones Act is the fundamental cornerstone of our Nation’s maritime policy, and has been for the past 99 years. And its relevance in addressing national security issues is as strong today as it was a century ago – even as the way it directly impacts national security has evolved since 1920.


The Jones Act helps maintains America’s shipbuilding capacity, supporting over 125 shipyards and repair facilities. In addition to 100 large ocean-going vessels in this fleet, it supports roughly 41,000 smaller vessels in our domestic service—all built and repaired by American workers—with a collective 73.8 million tons of cargo capacity. It’s an American jobs machine, resulting in $54 billion in U.S. economic output and supporting the employment of nearly 650,000 Americans.


Those jobs are very much on our minds—due to our sealift requirements, but also because these are good paying American jobs that can support a family.


It is very much in keeping with President Trump’s maxim that “economic issues are national security issues, and national security issues are economic issues.” You won’t see a sector of our economy that better or more accurately reflects that maxim than the maritime industry.


That’s why safety is very much on my mind and on yours. Maritime technology is advancing and that offers the promise of increased safety and efficiency, particularly automation. We’re engaged domestically and with international bodies on how to best reap the benefits from these new technologies without compromising safety – in fact the goal needs to be to increase safety.


As I mentioned, Secretary Chao is all about that. Today, and for the foreseeable future, safety rests in the hands of those highly-trained, highly skilled Americans we’re readying for maritime careers. If we invest in their training, we’ll find ourselves safer at sea and ashore.


I’ve really enjoy the time I’ve spent with you all, thanks for what you do, and how wonderfully you do it.


Underway’s the only way!


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Updated: Tuesday, November 12, 2019