Updates on maritime budgets and other important matters

By Paul Doell
National President

The fiscal 2024 NDAA

After the Labor Day break, our union and all other U.S. maritime labor and industry interests were awaiting Congressional agreement on the Fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which provides funding of vital programs that help sustain the U.S.-flag merchant fleet and the jobs this fleet provides for U.S. merchant marine officers and crews.

Drawing broad bipartisan, bicameral support each fiscal year, the maritime sections of the NDAA include full funding of the Maritime Security Program, the newly developed Tanker Security Program and the Cable Security Program, each of which is a source of reliable, rewarding work for AMO member engine and deck officers in international trade.

All of the ships covered by these programs are available on demand to the Department of Defense for strategic sealift service DOD alone cannot provide in national security emergencies. All of the civilian American merchant mariners aboard these ships and others are qualified to “turn to” as available on government-owned ships for military support missions in distant crises.

The annual NDAA also sets the budgets of the Maritime Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection in the Department of Homeland Security and other regulatory interests that weigh in on such matters as Jones Act and cargo preference law enforcement.

Consideration of the NDAA was delayed by the prolonged Congressional debate over the national debt ceiling, but the House and the Senate each approved the fiscal 2024 defense bill in July. This legislation was before the necessary House-Senate Conference Committee at the traditional August recess.

The Senate returned to session Labor Day week, and the House was to return the week of September 11. The House-Senate conference on the NDAA will resume amid objection to House amendments unrelated to maritime policy and the possibility of a government shut-down as a consequence of partisan bickering over government spending. At this writing September 8, the hope here was that this legislation – and its essential maritime support provisions – will be signed into law by October 1, the start of fiscal year 2024.

MARAD’s review of RRF exercise

Midweek before Labor Day, I participated in a Maritime Administration conference call summarizing the recent “turbo activation” of the Ready Reserve Force. Alaina Basciano, who works with Chris Spain in Washington, was on the call as well.

MARAD’s report was most favorable. In all, 1,495 billets were filled. When Coast Guard records were checked to confirm mariner qualifications, MARAD found 150 credential errors, but these were attributed to Coast Guard delays updating mariner documents.

MARAD also reported 72 cases in which the mariner was assigned twice to the same ship and 22 cases of mariners assigned to more than one ship.

Mariner shortages were familiar to AMO – MARAD had difficulty finding Second Assistant Engineers and Third Assistant Engineers, with only 87 of these engineers holding steam endorsements.

MARAD also cited shortages among QMEDs, oilers, ABs and Radio-Electronics Officers.

MARAD said only three mariners lacked security clearances and three ships had an inadequate number of mariners with small arms training.

I asked if any of these difficulties were tied directly to AMO and was told “NO.” None of the operators on the call weighed in on this question.

MARAD asked if it would help to schedule these turbo activations well away from holidays, especially the three-day weekends, to assure greater mariner availability. I was the only one who responded to this question. I said the idea struck me as counterintuitive in that a real national security emergency would not reflect American holiday schedules – I could not imagine China or Iran holding off on aggression or terrorist strikes because it’s the 4th of July or Christmas Day.

The call ended with MARAD asking for ways to better meet its defense shipping and national security requirements, and, again, I was the only participant to reply. I urged MARAD to work more closely with U.S. Transportation Command in the Defense Department and with Congress on strategies and legislative initiatives to more actively promote effective maritime policy. This would include more active promotion of programs authorized each year through the National Defense Authorization Act and greater enforcement of the Jones Act and cargo preference laws – all to ensure a qualified, available, loyal and dedicated seagoing labor base.

A Letter to the editor

The following letter to the editor was published by the Miami Herald in its September 3 edition. It was written in response to an op-ed lauding what industrial working Americans had done to help the U.S. and its allies win World War II. This article made no reference at all to the decisive role of the American merchant marine in WWII. The Herald did some minor editing, but the principal point was made.

My thanks to William Lambers for his September 1 Herald op-ed noting Labor Day and what working American men and women did to help the U.S. and its Allies win World War II, but Mr. Lambers said nothing about the critical work of the U.S. merchant ship fleet and the civilian American merchant mariners working aboard these vessels in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea.

Thousands of U.S.-flagged combatants and ships carrying defense cargoes or serving as troop transports were lost to enemy action – German U-Boats in the Atlantic, Japanese aircraft in the Pacific. In the Atlantic theater, many U.S. cargo ships were blasted from the sea within view of the U.S. coastline.

Worldwide, civilian American ship officers and crew members suffered a death rate exceeded only by that of the U.S. Marine Corps. Many were injured severely and left stranded in lifeboats for days or weeks at a time until rescued by Allied convoys.

More than 600 U.S. merchant mariners were held as Prisoners of War in Europe and in Japanese territory, and several of these were among those lost in the Death March to Bataan.

Despite this relentless peril, thousands of civilian American merchant mariners signed up for initial and successive service in war zone waters.

In contemporary conflict, the U.S. merchant fleet and American mariners delivered better than 90 percent of the defense cargoes to the Middle East in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait – where the first U.S. citizen to visit the liberated U.S. Embassy was a merchant ship Captain who had hitched a ride through flaming oil fields aboard a U.S. Marine Corps jeep – and to Iraq and Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Paul Doell
American Maritime Officers