The Maritime Administration has made a “course correction,” reorganizing itself and infusing new life, funds and discipline in to its core programs aimed at helping the nation’s shipping industry, the agency’s administrator said in his keynote address that opened the International WorkBoat Show Wednesday.
“When the Obama administration began, the organization wasn’t as effective as it could be and there was a major focus to make a course correction on three issues,” said David Matsuda in the annual Shipyard Day speech.
He said Marad has removed 26 vessels from its West Coast fleet, using proceeds from the sales to fund maritime education at the acdemies and programs at the federal and state maritime schools.
Secondly, after investigations revealed problems in leadership and management at the U.S. Maritime Academy at King’s Point, including deteriorating buildings and missing funds, reforms were made and Congress appropriated “the largest budget for the academy to address long needed repairs,” he said, “that will restore King’s Point to a crown jewel” as the nation’s federal training school for maritime officers.
And lastly, Marad has regained its hiring authority and replenished and refreshed its personnel, many of whom were nearing retirement age. “We lacked sufficient people to advocate for the maritime industry,” he said. “These are the maritime professionals that serve you.”
These improvements, Matsuda said, now allow Marad to focus on the future of the maritime industry. Looking forward, he said Marad has launched studies to identify geographic shifts in the industry, understand the impact of new shipping trends that will result from widening of the Panama Canal, analyze shipping on the Great Lakes, and survey foreign flag competition in U.S. trade.
He also said Marad is committed to moving the concept of marine highways – also known as short-sea shipping or container-on-barge – from the talking stage into concrete action. He said the Department of Transportation recently identified 16 corridors in the U.S. that hold promise as marine highways, and that the Obama administration has allocated $215 million to marine highway and port projects.
“This is a tough time to be looking for federal money, but this administration has opened up new opportunities for our industry to compete on a level playing field with other transport modes,” Matsuda said. “And we’ve done very well.”
He unveiled three of 11 new concept designs, developed by Marad naval architects, for vessels that could be used in marine highway projects. They involve RoRo, RoCon and feeder ship designs.
The RoRo design envisions a 24-knott vessel that is 682-feet long, with a beam of 93.5 feet and a 23 foot draft. The RoCon, 22-knott ship, would be 660-feet long with a 25-foot draft and a 105 foot beam, and the 18-knott feeder ship would be 497 feet long, with a 81.4 foot beam and a draft of 74.9 feet.
“These are modern, marine highway vessels that I know can be built in U.S. shipyards,” Matsuda said. “We’ve signed an agreement with the U.S. Navy to advance this to the next stage of development.”
The administrator also said that he’s observed the “beginnings” of a recovery in shipbuilding. “I’m not here to declare victory,” he said. “We still have a long way to go and I’m asking you to continue to work with us.”