By Matt Paxton, president, Shipbuilders Council of America
In the wake of the tragic loss of the El Faro and her 33-member crew during Hurricane Joaquin, familiar opponents of the maritime industry have shamefully used this difficult time as a weak attempt to blame the Jones Act for the tragedy.
The highly customized vessels that operate between U.S. ports are built specifically for the unique trade that they operate in. The vessels lead the world in both safety and technological advancements. More importantly, U.S.-built vessels are subject to strict safety regulations. So to imply that vessels that do not have to observe rigorous U.S. safety standards are safer than those that do defies common sense.
To try and connect the Jones Act – a law that strengthens our economic and national security – to this tragedy during a period when our industry is mourning the loss is not only incorrect, but also shameful. The United States, including our shipyard and repair industry, leads the world in ship construction advancements, including launching the world’s first LNG-powered containership – with millions more to come in investments in building and infrastructure.
The critics of the Jones Act and the build requirement choose to ignore the cold hard facts. While we will never see them acknowledge our industry’s economic accomplishments and safety standards – including providing nearly 500,000 good paying jobs in all 50 states and $39 billion in output into the U.S. economy – we are exceedingly proud of those accomplishments.
Our industry is also proud to serve as a backbone for the brave men and women who protect our homeland. That’s why the Jones Act has wide bipartisan support in Congress, from every modern day president and the highest levels of leadership in our armed forces. When Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva was asked about his support of the Jones Act, he replied, “… Without the contribution that the Jones Act brings to the support of our industry there is a direct threat to national defense.”
Adm. Paul Zukunft, the Coast Guard commandant, recently warned against the threat of repealing the Jones Act. “At the end of the day, it will put our entire U.S. fleet in jeopardy. And in a time of crisis, who are we going to charter to carry our logistics? Very difficult if we don’t have a U.S.-flagged ship.”
Despite some of the uninformed statements being touted by critics, the U.S. shipbuilding and ship repair industry remains one of the strongest, safest, and most innovative industries in the world.
Any time a mariner is lost, our industry feels it deeply into our very core. We at the Shipbuilders Council of America stand in strong solidarity with the men and women who served the El Faro as well as their families. Baseless attacks from critics who only seek to gain economically from this difficult time insult the legacy of these mariners and their families, and they need to stop.
Matt Paxton is the president of the Shipbuilders Council of America. In this capacity, he advocates for a robust and expanding U.S. shipyard industrial base. He is also a lawyer, focusing on maritime law and environmental issues.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of WorkBoat.