U.S. Representatives Elijah E. Cummings (D, MD-07) and Jeff Landry (R, LA-03) today introduced the Saving Essential American Sailors (SEAS) Act, H.R. 6170, which would ensure American food aid is transported by American workers. The bill repeals Section 100124 of the highway bill, MAP-21. Additional original co-sponsors include Congress members Nick Rahall (D, WV-03), Rick Larsen (D, WA-02), Bennie Thompson (D, MS-02), Colleen Hanabusa (D, HI-01), Cedric Richmond (D, LA-02), Michael Grimm (R, NY-13), Tim Bishop (D, NY-01), and Candice Miller (R, MI-10).
Section 100124 reduces the amount of U.S. food aid required to be carried on U.S.-flagged ships from 75 percent to just 50 percent, jeopardizing up to 2,000 American maritime jobs. The Maritime Administration (MARAD) estimates that enactment of Section 100124 could cause the U.S.-flagged fleet to lose 16 vessels and $90 million in annual revenues.
"The number of vessels in the U.S. flag and the percentage of U.S. cargoes carried on American vessels have continued to fall in recent decades. Currently, there are fewer than 100 U.S.-flagged vessels in the foreign trade, and these vessels carry less than two percent of U.S. cargoes," said Cummings. "If we allow a further decline in this fleet and the loss of additional mariner jobs, we risk leaving our economy and indeed our military dependent on foreign-flagged, foreign-owned vessels manned by non-U.S. citizens -- a situation that would be intolerable."
"This is what happens when Washington rushes bills; we don't fully debate them or understand their ramifications. Section 100124 will mean that American taxpayers will be paying foreign workers while American mariners sit on the beach," said Landry. "I hope my colleagues from both sides of the aisle will join us in fighting for our American workers and quickly pass the SEAS Act."
In a May 2011 letter, Commander of the United States Transportation Command General Duncan McNabb wrote that "over 90 percent of all cargo to Afghanistan and Iraq has been moved by sea in U.S. Flag vessels" and noted that U.S. cargo preference laws and the Maritime Security Program have helped in "ensuring the continued viability of both the U.S. Flag fleet and the pool of citizen mariners who man those vessels." McNabb continued, "the movement of U.S. international food aid has been a major contributor to the cargo we have moved under the cargo preference law that our U.S. commercial sealift industry depends on. Any reductions will have to be offset in other ways to maintain current DoD sealift readiness."
"This ill-conceived change in our cargo preference laws would literally ship American jobs overseas," said Rahall. "The SEAS Act provides a sensible solution to correct this flaw in the surface transportation bill. It is a job-protecting measure that merits smooth sailing through Congressional consideration and enactment."
"The SEAS Act will undo a short-sighted provision that dealt a huge blow to job creation at a time when the maritime industry is already hurting," Larsen said. "Congress should be doing everything it can to create jobs. The SEAS Act will reverse this backward step that could cost our mariners thousands of jobs. I am committed to working with my colleagues to undo this short-sighted provision and protect these important jobs."