Supplying American troops overseas – enhancing America’s commercial sealift capability – providing the U.S.-flag vessels and American mariners needed by the Department of Defense.  Doing all this and more in the most efficient and economical means available to the United States government is what the U.S.-flag merchant marine is able to do for our nation through the Maritime Security Program (MSP).

The Maritime Institute for Research and Industrial Development (MIRAID) and the Masters, Mates & Pilots (MM&P) have strongly supported the Maritime Security Program since its inception in 1996.   The continued and uninterrupted operation of the MSP is not only an essential component of our nation’s commercial sealift readiness capability but is critically important to the continued operation of the U.S.-flag merchant marine.

Originally enacted into law on October 8, 1996, the Maritime Security Act of 1996 established a maritime security fleet of 47 privately-owned militarily useful U.S.-flag commercial vessels.  This program, authorized to run for ten years, was extended in 2003 and expanded by the Congress at that time to authorize a maritime security fleet of 60 U.S.-flag ships.  Most recently and reflecting the widespread benefits accruing to the United States from this program, the MSP and its maritime security fleet of 60 privately-owned, militarily useful U.S.-flag vessels were reauthorized and extended by the Congress at the request of the Department of Defense through September 30, 2025 (Public Law 112-239).

Rear Admiral Dee Mewbourne, Commander, Military Sealift Command (2018)

“To carry that logistics power to the fight, we have always relied on our Merchant Marine.  And they have always answered the call. Despite the dangers and long separations from home, our U.S. Merchant Marine has sailed into harm’s way time and time again to make sure American warfighters and our allies have had the supplies they need to overwhelm our adversaries.”

As history has proven, American mariners never fail to sail into harm’s way when needed by the United States.  There is no guarantee or reason to believe foreign crews will do the same. It is essential that Congress and the Administration stop the further loss of U.S.-flag vessels and the outsourcing of American maritime jobs. The choice for our Nation is simple: either the United States continues to entrust the security of our nation and the safety of American troops deployed overseas to U.S.-flag vessels and their U.S. citizen crews, or instead turns over America’s security interests and the well-being of American troops to foreign flag, foreign crewed vessels which may or may not choose to support America and our allies. One important step is to fully fund the Maritime Security Program.


Rear Admiral Thomas Shannon, Commander, U.S. Military Sealift Command (2016):

“[We] must be mindful that the execution of our national military strategy requires a robust U.S.-flag merchant marine, a strong surge sealift capability, and a deep pool of merchant mariners to literally carry our nation to war. . . Contracting out our ability to carry our nation’s combat power with foreign flag fleets is simply not an option. So let us all put our oar in the water, and pull together to sustain a viable U.S.-flag merchant marine.”

In their 2017–2018 maritime policy statement, the Navy League of the United States stated, [Failing to provide full funding for MSP] “could reduce reserve sealift readiness and capacity below levels that would fully meet the combatant commanders’ operational plans for major deployment of ground forces, which call for 95 percent of unit equipment and sustaining supplies to be moved by strategic sealift. Reduced funding will decrease the number of mariners employed on these vessels, and without adequate sealift and sealift manning, mission capability will be compromised.”

In fact, the major issue threatening our industry’s ability to continue to meet America’s commercial strategic sealift requirements is the shortfall in the number of qualified U.S. citizen mariners to crew the government and privately-owned vessels relied upon by DOD.  In March 2015, General Paul Selva, then-Commander, U.S. Transportation Command, told Congress that because of the “reduction in government impelled cargoes due to the drawdown in Afghanistan and the reductions in food aid . . . the mariner base is at a point where future reductions in U.S.-flag capacity put our ability to fully activate, deploy and sustain forces at increased risk.”

Similarly, at Congressional hearings held in 2018, Admiral Mark Buzby, Administrator, United States Maritime Administration, warned that there is “an estimated shortfall of 1,800 qualified mariners in the event of a full, prolonged mobilization . . . .”

It is extremely important to note that since the inception of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2002, 98 percent of the cargoes have been transported to the region on either U.S.-flag commercial vessels or U.S. Government owned and/or controlled vessels – all of which are crewed by U.S. citizen civilian merchant mariners.  Since 2009, privately owned U.S.-flag commercial vessels and their civilian U.S. citizen crews have transported more than 90 percent of the sustainment cargo needed to support U.S. military operations and rebuilding programs in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Most importantly, vessels enrolled in MSP carried 99 percent of these cargoes.

General Darren McDew, Commander, U.S. Transportation Command (2017):

“MSP has provided access to required commercial U.S.-flag shipping assets, while also supporting the pool of Merchant Mariners needed to operate the Military Sealift Command’s Surge and Ready Reserve Fleet.  In this way, MSP significantly contributes to the supply of Merchant Mariners available to serve on U.S. vessels in time of war while mitigating future risk to our national commercial capability.”  


Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, U.S. Maritime Administrator (2017):

“The U.S. military, the most powerful military in the world, relies on U.S.-flag vessels crewed by U.S. civilian mariners, operating from strategic ports, and using intermodal systems to ensure delivery of vital supplies and equipment to service members and their families stationed overseas. This transportation partnership between the U.S. military and the U.S.-flag merchant marine has been proven as reliable, enabling, and cost effective to meeting sealift requirements.”

A 2006 report prepared for the National Defense Transportation Association and Military Sealift Command concluded that “the likely cost to the government to replicate just the vessel capacity provided by MSP dry cargo vessels would be $13 billion.” In addition, the United States Transportation Command has estimated that it would cost the U.S. Government an additional $52 billion to replicate the global intermodal systems made available to DOD by MSP contractors who are continuously developing, maintaining and upgrading their logistics systems. Instead of the estimated $65 billion it would cost the taxpayer if there were no MSP and the government had to replicate this commercial sealift capability, a fully funded MSP will continue to provide DOD with the militarily-useful U.S.-flag vessels, U.S. civilian maritime manpower, and the global intermodal systems it needs at a cost to the taxpayer of $300 million in FY’20 as authorized by Congress.


First, we are asking all Members of Congress to support full funding for MSP at its Congressionally-authorized FY’20 level of $300 million. Significantly, the House of Representatives on June 25,  2019 passed and sent to the Senate legislation providing $300 million for MSP for the coming fiscal year.

Secondly, under existing law and as a direct result of Congressional budgetary rules in effect when the stipend was last adjusted in 2016, the authorized amount for MSP will decrease from the statutory $5.2 million per ship authorized in FY’21 to $3.7 million in each of FY’ 22 – 25.   We are asking Congress to take the necessary steps to prevent this arbitrary decrease from going into effect.    Failing to address this funding shortfall will seriously impede the ability of vessel operators to maintain their vessel operations under the U.S.-flag and to continue to provide the commercial sealift capability and American maritime manpower needed by the Department of Defense.  It is important to note that the most recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, dated August 2018, states that the differential  between operating a ship under the US-flag versus a foreign flag was between $6.2 – $6.5 million in 2017, further illustrating why Congress should act now to prevent the reduction in authorized funding for MSP in FY’22 – 25.

Significantly, the House Committee on Armed Services has approved legislation that would increase the per vessel stipend in FY’22 – 25 from $3.7 million to $5.3 million and the Senate Committee on Commerce has proposed increasing the amount from $3.7 million to $5.2 million.

Finally, it is important that U.S.-flag vessel owners and the Department of Defense know that MSP will continue uninterrupted and that the strategic commercial sealift capability and American maritime personnel it provides will remain available.  Under existing law, the program expires in FY’25.   We are asking that Congress act now to extend this program for an additional ten-year period, through FY’35.  This will also give vessel owners confidence to proceed with their capital investment plans so that the maritime security fleet will continue to be comprised of modern, efficient and militarily useful U.S.-flag vessels.  Significantly, bot the House Armed services Committee and the Senate Commerce Committee have each reported legislation that would extend MSP for the additional ten year period.