Those searching for signs of hope in the U.S. economy need look no further than an industry too often taken for granted — the American maritime industry.
In the midst of a renaissance that is creating jobs and leading an American economic recovery, the men and women who work on U.S. vessels and in U.S. shipyards collectively contribute billions to our national economy.
The growth opportunities in the domestic maritime sector stem from the boom in domestic oil production. Leading this boom is the high demand to move the abundance of natural gas and oil being produced here at home. In fact, recent headlines have celebrated the resurgence in U.S. shipbuilding, with our home states of California and Louisiana among the nation’s shipyard leaders.
The latest example of this economic renaissance can be found in San Diego, where the construction of the world’s first liquefied natural gas-powered container ships are underway. These vessels are not only the most advanced, environmentally progressive vessels of their kind, but they also represent $350 million in U.S. investment, support 600 American shipyard jobs and brighten the future of the indispensable domestic maritime industry.
The San Diego project is far from the only notable example of the innovation and investment that is taking place in the domestic maritime industry today. Seven of the top 10 busiest ports in the United States are found along the Gulf Coast. Nearly 30,000 Louisianans work in the private sector on the front lines as they build and repair ships, earning an average salary of more than $70,000 in the process.
American companies and workers are applying American ingenuity — and investing billions of dollars — to meet the nation’s transportation needs. Whether through new vessel construction, innovative technology or rigorous safety training, at a time when other industries are suffering from uncertainty, the domestic maritime industry is investing in its future and safeguarding its resilience. All Americans will reap the benefits.
This growth would not be possible without the Merchant Marine Act passed by Congress in 1920, commonly referred to as the Jones Act, which requires that vessels moving cargo between U.S. ports be owned by American companies, crewed by American mariners and built in American shipyards. The resulting benefits cannot be understated: More than 40,000 American-owned vessels built in American shipyards and crewed by American mariners move agricultural goods, petroleum, coal, natural gas, chemicals and other essential commodities safely and efficiently along our rivers and coastlines. The domestic maritime industry supports nearly 500,000 jobs and almost $100 billion in economic output.
The security importance of this law is equally, if not more important than the economic benefits. For decades, U.S. military leaders have supported the Jones Act because of its national and homeland security benefits. One remarkable, historic example came on Sept. 11, 2001, when the New York maritime community responded to unbelievable tragedy in a most astonishing manner, assisting with the largest maritime evacuation on record as it transported more than 500,000 people away from Manhattan after the attacks. Additionally, the Jones Act supports our men and women in uniform. During the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 90 percent of all needed material was moved to the war zones using water transportation.
The domestic maritime industry also protects America’s security interests within our own borders. Our connected system of waterways links the heart of our nation to our coasts. Without the Jones Act, vessels and crews from foreign nations could move freely on U.S. waters, creating a more porous border, increasing possible security threats and introducing vessels and mariners who do not adhere to U.S. standards into the bloodstream of our nation.
We are blessed to have fellow Americans operating U.S. vessels between our ports and on our waterways. Our mariners are best in class in their training, safety and commitment to this great land. Waterborne commerce and our nation’s maritime base are vital to our nation’s economy, security and quality of life.
The Jones Act should be hailed as a commercial and a public policy success. It is the critical factor that ensures a vibrant domestic maritime sector, which in turn helps propel the American economy and protect vital U.S. national and homeland security interests.
American maritime is investing in itself and leading an economic recovery. We would be wise to not get in its way.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana are Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives.