The fundamental truths influencing U.S. Red Sea strategy

Two news outlets – G-Captain and Trade Winds – reported on January 22 that Houthi terrorists had claimed an attack on the U.S.-flag heavy lift ship Ocean Jazz in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen. As we all know, the Ocean Jazz is one of four such ships operated by Intermarine and managed by Seabulk Fleet Management. The engineers and deck officers on these ships are members of our union, and the crew is represented by the SIU.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said there was no attack on the Ocean Jazz. “The Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists’ report of an alleged successful attack on M/V Ocean Jazz is patently false,” the Bahrain-based Navy unit said. “NAVCENT has maintained constant communications with M/V Ocean Jazz throughout its safe transit.”

The Ocean Jazz this morning was said to be doing well.

These developments require elaboration on a key distinction central to U.S. strategy to ensure the seagoing security of U.S. maritime interests in the region. The intent applies equally to both U.S.-owned and flagged ships and to U.S.-owned vessels flagged abroad.

While AMO supports this comprehensive approach without question, we must note for the record that U.S.-flag cargo ships operating in diverse markets in the U.S. and worldwide are available immediately as needed and without fail to the Department of Defense for strategic sealift to distant war zones and for other military support services in national security emergencies.

Moreover, U.S.-flag cargo ships are staffed by civilian U.S. citizen officers and crews with a proven, historical record of “turning to” for various missions at sea in support of legitimate and lasting national missions.

U.S.-owned merchant ships registered under foreign flags and employing foreign nationals as officers and crews in international trade for business reasons cannot make the same credible case.

U.S.-flag container, roll-on/roll-off ships and tankers staffed by American citizen officers and crews are enrolled in the Maritime Security Program and the new Tanker Security and Cable Ship Security Programs and others are under government contract, operating for Military Sealift Command and the Maritime Administration. Many of these ships are under AMO contract.

In domestic trade, the all-American Jones Act sustains deep-sea ships well qualified for distant defense shipping and other military support services, and tug-barge fleets haul defense cargoes from inland points to ocean ports for transshipment to U.S. Armed Forces overseas when and where DOD needs these supplies. U.S.-flag Great Lakes fleets feed the iron ore mills that provide raw material for much defense production. These Jones Act fleets are built through private capital investment, at no cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Now consider the U.S. merchant fleet in contemporary conflict.

During Operation Desert Shield – the eight-mile-long “Steel Bridge” of ships carrying U.S. defense cargoes to the Middle East in response to Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, with AMO in the licensed positions on many of these vessels – Military Sealift Command encountered a chartered ship in this convoy undergoing a name change, a paint job and a flag switch. This vessel was midway through the replacement of U.S. mariners with foreign nationals.

When actual combat began as Operation Desert Storm, U.S. merchant mariners standing by in Kuwait aboard ships laden with explosives stood topside, watching the Russian SCUD missiles flying by overhead. When this war ended, the first private U.S. citizen to reach the liberated U.S. Embassy in Kuwait was the civilian Captain of one such U.S.-flagged ship who had hitched a ride through the burning oil fields in a U.S. Marine Corp jeep.

U.S.-flag merchant ships staffed by American citizen merchant mariners – many of them AMO members – later delivered more than 90 percent of the defense cargoes to U.S. military personnel in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In today’s Red Sea-Gulf of Aden crisis, Maersk Line Ltd. had two U.S.-flag ships in harm’s way, according to media reports – the Maersk Sentosa and Maersk Kensington, with cargo capacities of 6,500 and 6,200 20-foot containers, respectively.

AMO does not represent the engine and deck officers on these two Maritime Security Program ships. The contracts these officers work under are held by the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association and the International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots. AMO, M.E.B.A. and MM&P members share the solid U.S. citizen commitment to defense shipping and U.S. national security – with no fear, no doubt and no hesitation.

Our three unions were among the nine labor organizations that signed on to the January 19 letter to Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, Commander of U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

In a brief intro to her detailed reply, which contained some confidential information, Gen. Van Ovost agreed essentially to principal points made here. She said:

“Greetings from TRANSCOM.”

“Thank you for your letter and for bringing your concerns to my attention. U.S. Mariners are the backbone of our national maritime capability, and I am proud of our longstanding relationship and collaboration. Attached you will find my response. My leads are included on the cc line and are standing by to assist as we continue to navigate our approach to operations in the Red Sea.

“Together, We Deliver!”

Paul Doell
American Maritime Officers