Getting Our (Jones) Act Together

The Stamford Advocate came out with an interesting report during the Connecticut Maritime Association’s Shipping conference this week at the Westin Hotel in Stamford.

Industry representatives, the report stated, were of the opinion that, “the merchant marine industry could hold the key” to making the nation’s highways safer and less congested, but it would require the federal government to improve infrastructure at U.S. ports and change shipping regulations.

More than 900 attendees were at this annual three-day event and heard a number of speakers address the challenges faced by the international shipping industry. Transporting more freight on the nation’s waterways was one of the many topics discussed at the conference and was one of the chief concerns expressed by the U.S. Maritime Administration’s chief, Sean Connaughton.

“Shore-side infrastructure is not keeping up with commerce,” he said, “and we are concerned.” Traffic congestion around our ports will continue to worsen as overseas trade is increased, he told his audience. Foreign trade is expected to double over the next 15 years, he stated, and he suggested that greater use of our waterways would serve to reduce highway congestion. Port infrastructure development will be high on his list of priorities, Mr. Connaughton said, and because Congress is very interested in these matters, he spoke of his intention to press the issue.

So far so good. But Mr. Heidenreich of Heidenreich Marine in Darien then followed up with a disturbing complaint. He blamed much of the transportation problem on the Jones Act, the federal legislation that requires products shipped by sea between U.S. ports to be carried on ships built and registered in the United States and manned by U.S. crews.

It sounded as though Mr. Heidenreich was endorsing the use of foreign-built feeders on our waterways to the further detriment of the struggling U.S. shipbuilding industry. But was he? He seemed to backtrack when he said, “the U.S. fleet is a fraction of what it was 40 years ago. Our industry has a serious image problem. People don’t appreciate the impact of shipping on world trade and the economy”. Maybe Mr. Heidenreich himself is one of those who lack that appreciation.

“The merchant marine industry could hold the key …”, it was being said. Well, the U.S. merchant fleet did indeed hold the key at one time. During and since the World War II years, however, our leaders saw fit to give away that superiority. Antony C. Sutton revealed in his 1973 book, “National Suicide: Military Aide to the Soviet Union”, that we gave away dozens and dozens of our merchant ships to Soviet Russia. He describes these vessels by name and even provides serial numbers of the propulsion systems within these vessels. And as if that wasn’t enough we transferred our shipbuilding technology to foreign nations, and these nations, by covertly converting our annual foreign aid dollars to shipbuilding subsidies, proceeded to take away our ability to compete.

And now voices are proposing that we should terminate the Jones Act? That’s all we have left, for goodness sakes!