Presidents Column: 'Maritime Cabotage is Sound Policy'


April 2018


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While there are many aspects of Maritime Trades Department meetings that make them worthwhile, we don’t normally hear breaking news during our gatherings.


Last month was quite an exception, as an official from the respected, London-based organization Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI) shared results of a years-long survey which concluded that at least 91 nations around the world maintain some form of maritime cabotage law.


The findings of this study are significant in several ways. First, they provide a much-needed update to a similar survey that was conducted by the U.S. Maritime Administration back in the 1990s. At that time, the results showed that about 50 countries had cabotage on the books. Knowing that the current figure is almost twice that number shows that we in the United States are far from alone in recognizing the value of maintaining policies that support flag-state shipping.


The results also stand out because of how thoroughly Seafarers’ Rights International conducted the study. As explained by SRI Executive Director Deirdre Fitzpatrick, the survey involved more than 1,300 emails, hundreds of phone calls, reviewing around 300 World Trade Organization reports, plus scouring through books and more articles than they could probably count.


Finally, SRI concluded that the goals and benefits of maritime cabotage are exactly what we in the SIU have said all along. Those goals and benefits include fair competition; retaining a skilled, reliable pool of mariners; promoting local jobs; boosting local and national transportation companies; shipboard and environmental safety; and national and economic security.


We also were reminded that the Jones Act (America’s freight cabotage law) isn’t the only one under attack. Other countries face similar challenges with what I describe as the storm of lies and misinformation about the Jones Act. The MTD and the SIU will do everything possible to help those nations push back with facts, working with the SRI, the International Transport Workers’ Federation and other allies.


If you look back at the last year’s worth of Seafarers LOG editions, you’d probably find that we wrote more information about the Jones Act than any other single subject. And there are good reasons for giving it so much attention, starting with your jobs. Without the Jones Act, there wouldn’t be a U.S. Merchant Marine. Without the U.S.-build provision of the Jones Act, our shipyards would be devastated. Without the Jones Act, so-called flag-of-convenience operators would have free reign up and down our rivers and coasts, using crews that could come from anywhere, with nowhere near the security vetting that American mariners go through.


I encourage you to read all of our MTD coverage in this issue, including the article about Ms. Fitzpatrick’s presentation. All of it matters to the SIU and to our industry.


There’s one other thing from the meetings that I want to mention, and that’s the outstanding work being done by SIU of Canada President Jim Given and his team. Jim also addressed the board, and while I personally was familiar with many of the cabotage fights he has led in recent years, there was something about hearing them recapped all at once that renewed my admiration for how hard Jim and his entire organization have worked to protect their members’ jobs. Both the SIU and the MTD have been with them all the way, lending whatever support we can, but Jim in particular deserves a tip of the cap for his tireless, effective leadership. He’s a good example of what it takes to get the job done and that hard work does pay off.


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