Merchant Marine & Ports

Foreign-flagged cargo ships now carry better than 97 percent of U.S. commercial imports and exports. Many of these ships are registered in
unaccountable flag of convenience countries like Liberia (which has been
said to use ship registry revenues to help finance a brutal rebel faction
in neighboring Sierra Leone) and Panama (awash in fraudulent seafarer
certificates and licenses for sale).

Many United States ships are registered in Panama. You may recall that we invaded Panama because under Manual Noriega, the country was considered to be a "narco state." 

Crews for most foreign-flagged ships serving U.S. trade are typically
recruited from Third World countries, many with large Muslim populations,
including Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan and states of the former
Soviet Union. They often live and work at sea under harsh conditions,
logging long hours for little pay and no benefits. They are often subject
to dismissal anywhere in the world–including the U.S.–without recourse
and without repatriation. Would anyone be surprised to learn that many of
these mariners resent or even hate the U.S. and the industrialized West for
what they represent?

Foreign-flag ships are also used to an unnerving extent by the U.S. Navy’s
Military Sealift Command, which too often charters them for support
services abroad. During the Persian Gulf war in 1990 and 1991, for example,
MSC was able to charter foreign-flagged ships to cover U.S.-flag capacity
shortfalls, but only at rates many analysts said were excessive. And there
were documented cases of foreign crews–many of them Muslim–refusing to
bring U.S. defense cargoes to the war zone.

Now the Bush Administration wants to outsource the operation of a number of American ports to an Arab country. And make a former executive of a Dubai company head of the Maritime Administration.

Our completely clueless Attorney General says, "This is not a question about port security. This is a question about port operation." 

I guess the Attorney General hasn’t noticed that port security is a part of port operations.

For example, in the Port of Long Beach, California, you will find the one of the Divisions is the  Director of Security . The Port of Los Angeles has a "Homeland Security" division on their staff. The Port Authority of New York has their own police for security.

I can see another "Mission Accomplished" moment here.

American President Lines is now owned by the NOL Group, a Singapore based shipping company.

SeaLand Services, the American company that invented the cargo container, is now owned by the A.P. Moller Group, a Danish shipping company. Sealand was unloaded by the railroad company, CSX. The Chairman of CSX was the current Secretary of the Treasury, John Snow.

The American merchant marine has been essentially dead since after World War II.

One of the reasons for the decline of the United States merchant marine has been the unions.  At one time a Sealand Master earned one day vacation for every day worked.  A Master’s pay was in the neighborhood of $300.000 a year.  While it’s true that many of these folks didn’t work 12 months a year, the pay was still way above what foreign seaman earn, and contributed to the collapse of our merchant marine.

And the collapse happened even though American shipping companies were allowed to set prices though "Shipping Conferences" that were exempt from antitrust and price fixing laws.

American shipyards are also handicapped by high wages and are unable to compete with foreign yards that produce ships at a much lower cost.  Notice that not a single vessel in the Maresk fleet was built in the United States.

Unfortunately, this has been going on for years. Our merchant fleet has been registered under foreign flags, our major shipping companies have been purchased by foreign companies and our ports are being run by foreign companies. Even if this deal isn’t approved, these ports have been operated by the London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co.




One Response to “Merchant Marine & Ports”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Your remarks are all quite accurate. I served as a USMM officer for years and and am now very involved in shipping and ship and port security.

    Actually, the problems previously posed by the “flags of convenience” have, to a very great extent essentially disappeared in “first world” ports, thanks to the work of the International Maritime Organization and invocation of Port State Control by such agencies as the US Coast Guard.

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