Today, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) and Congressman Scott Rigell (R-VA) introduced H.R. 1678, the Saving Essential American Sailors (SEAS) Act, a bill to repeal Section 100124 of the MAP-21 legislation which reduced from 75 percent to 50 percent the amount of U.S. food aid required to be carried on U.S.-flagged vessels.
"The senseless cuts made to the cargo preference program in MAP-21 dealt another blow to an already battered U.S. merchant marine," said Congressman Cummings. "It is essential that these cuts be reversed and that we begin implementing policies that will strengthen our merchant marine by increasing the cargoes carried on U.S.-flagged vessels."
"Our region, indeed, our national economy, depends on a robust American shipping industry, and we must protect those jobs," said Representative Scott Rigell (VA-2) who represents part of the Hampton Roads region and serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Committee on the Budget. "Further, we should not have to depend on foreign owned vessels to deliver cargo to our troops overseas. This legislation will ensure we keep Americans employed while defending the good men and women who are defending our freedom around the world."
In 1975, there were more than 850 ocean-going ships under the U.S. flag. At the end of 2012, there were just 109 U.S.-flagged vessels in the foreign trade. The Maritime Administration has estimated that the enactment of Section 100124 could cause the U.S.-flagged fleet to lose as much as $90 million in annual revenues and could drive additional vessels away from the U.S. flag.
In a letter written in May 2011, General Duncan McNabb, Commander of the United States Transportation Command, indicated that "To date, over 90 percent of all cargo to Afghanistan and Iraq has been moved by sea in U.S. Flag vessels," and he 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." Without a U.S.-flagged sealift capacity, U.S. imports and exports would move solely on foreign, often state-owned shipping lines and the U.S. military would be left dependent on foreign-flagged, foreign-owned vessels manned by non-U.S. citizens to carry military cargoes.