MARAD Looking for Solutions to Meet Military’s Requirements
By JAMES PETERSON, Special Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — A top U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD’s) official detailed the current status of U.S.-flag Merchant Marine fleet and explained the agency’s need for more civilian mariners during a Navy League Special Topic Breakfast July 19.
MARAD’s policy lists three zones representing the number of qualified available mariners: red (less than 111,119), amber (11,119 to 13,054) and green (more than 13,054). According to Joel Szabat, MARAD’s executive director serving in lieu of the administrator, the agency now sits at less than 12,000 mariners. He explained the current number of available mariners would not be enough to sustain the “maximum scenario that the military requires” MARAD to plan for.
“In order to keep the sealift going … to maintain it, to sustain it, to keep it running for a year or more, we need 13,000 mariners in the pool,” Szabat said. “That’s because not only do we need to keep the mariners onboard the government ships for them to sail, we need for them to be able to be rotated off and be replaced.”
Szabat explained that the need for more mariners comes from people, understandably, burning out after two or three months.
“It’s demanding work, and you’re doing this 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with no breaks,” he said. “That’s why you can’t expect people to be doing this for months at a time. … They have to rotate on, and they have to rotate off.”
The biggest question on Szabat’s mind, however, was how they would get enough qualified civilian mariners to meet the maximum to man the fleet.
“We’ve got more hulls available than we have mariners we can trust to crew them,” he said. “I say trust because this is a matter of national policy. This isn’t a wish list. … We don’t need the vessels as much as we need the mariners.”
Szabat also offered a few suggestions in meeting the military requirements, mentioning as one hypothetical solution an executive order to increase food aid cargo preference to 100 percent.
“If the administration wants to change cargo preference,” he speculated, “they’re going to want to do it to add ships under the U.S. fleet, because if you add ships, you add jobs.”
Currently, he said, the law requires 50 percent of federal civilian cargo to be transported on U.S.-flag ships, and there’s a three-year wait for any new U.S.-flag ships before they can carry that cargo. Since the administration is interested in adding U.S.-flag ships and mariners to the fleet, any increase in the cargo preference requirements would have to be without the three-year wait. That becomes an incentive to flag into the U.S. fleet.