The maritime industry has always been evolving and innovating. From the days of sail to the days of steam, and now in today’s global commerce environment, technology has made the business of shipping more efficient, faster and more reliable than ever before.
But even with increased efficiency and productivity, the U.S. maritime industry has not been able to halt the continued decline of the American merchant marine and the U.S. maritime fleet. From its height at the end of World War II, the modern American merchant marine has shrunk to a small fraction of its former size.
What we do know is that the reason that privately owned and operated ships remain in international trade under the U.S. flag is to move cargo. We also know that a reduction to our fleet of U.S.-flag vessels trading internationally means a reduction in mariner jobs in international trade.
According to statistics as compiled by the U.S. Maritime Administration, in 1955 there were 1,072 vessels flying the U.S. Flag sailing internationally. Currently, this number stands at 77 vessels. Some of this reduction in fleet size reflects the increased size of vessels sailing today. In 1955, the 1,072 ships combined for approximately 13 million deadweight tons while the current US Flag fleet of 167 ships represent 7.8 million deadweight tons. Overall, in 1955, the U.S. Flag fleet represented almost 25 percent of the world’s overall tonnage while the U.S. share today is approaching only a mere two percent of total world tonnage.
Just as the number of U.S. ships have declined, so too has the amount of American mariners who, unfortunately, must follow the available jobs. While the decline in American mariners gets some attention, often lost in the discussion is the reality that the mariners who move international trade and those who transport wartime cargo come from the same dwindling pool of U.S. mariners. If that U.S. mariner base gets too small, we will have to rely on other countries to deploy our combat power.
There are a variety of reasons for the decline in the U.S. Merchant Marine – disparities in taxes (both corporate and on the mariner), overregulation of the industry, competition with foreign mariners from the developing world, and a lack of a coherent national maritime policy have all contributed to the decline of the merchant marine.
Mariner Education and Training. AMC firmly believes that merchant mariner education and certification is critically important to meet national security needs and maintain the nation’s defense readiness. However, it is vitally important that our industry has good paying job opportunities that will attract and retain the interest of young men and women for the U.S. merchant marine. (PDF)
AMC and the entire U.S. maritime industry will be working hard to level the playing field by educating Congress on the need for regulatory reform, a coherent maritime policy, and tax reform. By working together in a close partnership with industry, labor and government, we can return the U.S. Merchant Marine to its former place as the worldwide leader in ocean shipping.