May 4th 2015

A coalition of unions and shipping companies, including Masters, Mates & Pilots and MIRAID, is urging senators weighing changes in America’s international food aid programs to maintain the components of the program that ensure the country has the trained U.S. mariners and U.S.-flag ships needed to protect our national security. In a letter dated April 15, 19 organizations reminded the elected officials of the importance of the program to a strong, viable U.S.-flag fleet. The letter was written to coincide with a committee hearing on food aid, including a change that would eliminate the role in the program of U.S. ships and crews.

“Key components of U.S. maritime policy that promote the use of U.S.-flag vessels and enhance the economic and security interests of the United States are the U.S.-flag cargo preference statutes,” the maritime coalition wrote to Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), committee chair, and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), its ranking member. “They provide U.S.-flag vessels with a critical base of cargo, giving them the opportunity to stay active while they work to compete against lower-cost and often tax-free foreign-flag vessels for the carriage of commercial cargoes in the United States. This in turn helps to ensure that the U.S.-flag vessels and their American crews remain available to the Department of Defense in time of war or other international emergency.”

“We strongly urge that any proposal to reform or revise the PL-480 Food for Peace Program, our nation’s most successful foreign aid food assistance program, must ensure that the militarily useful U.S.-flag commercial vessels, American maritime jobs and worldwide logistical networks available to our nation through the Maritime Security Program, our nation’s most important commercial sealift capability program, are not adversely affected or lost.” To maintain America’s readiness, the coalition wrote, DOD would have to compensate in other ways for cargoes eliminated in the context of food aid report.

Today, they added, “because of reductions in the size of the U.S.-flag fleet, DOD’s commercial sealift capabilities are in peril.” They quoted Gen. Paul Selva, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, who has told legislators in official testimony that “the reduction in government-impelled cargoes due to the drawdown in Afghanistan and reductions in food aid… are driving vessels owners” away from the U.S. flag… which “puts our ability to fully activate, deploy and sustain forces at increased risk.”

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.