I ask you to remain steadfast and to support the Jones Act and everything that it stands for.
Blessey Marine Services, a company I started out of a home office in the 1970s, now owns and operates more than 85 inland boats and 170 tank barges, making it one of the largest inland liquid petroleum carriers in the country. We operate on every navigable tributary of the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, including the Missouri, Arkansas, Red, Ouachita, Illinois, Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Cumberland rivers (as well as Lake Michigan and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.) We employ 800 hard working Americans who live anywhere from Arizona to Pennsylvania. My home Congressional district has the largest number of maritime-employed constituents of any Congressional district in America. Accordingly, I would like to make the following observations:
The Jones Act requires that all vessel crewmembers employed on vessels in coastwise domestic shipping (i.e. between two U.S. ports) must be U.S. citizens. We spend great time and money screening employment applications, and then mentoring, training, and leading our crews. We spend a great amount of time and money to ensure compliance with U.S. Coast Guard and Homeland Security regulations, which are in place for one reason: to make America and its waterways safe in every aspect. Yes, we could possibly hire foreigners cheaper. However, we would risk a lower standard of performance. We would risk an industry with more collisions, allisions, and oil spills. Since Exxon Valdez, our industry has spent nearly 30 years working with the USCG to put in place protections for all aspects of the inland marine industry, including safe equipment, safe navigation and operations, and efficient and comprehensive training. Who would monitor these foreign crews? Neither the USCG nor Homeland Security is set up to regulate foreigners working on inland vessels. We would risk saboteurs who could cause incredible damage. I do not think so – not on my watch.
The Jones Act requires that majority ownership of any vessel operating coastwise must be U.S. citizens. This makes sense to us. Do we want foreigners controlling our domestic commerce? Again, we do not think so.
Finally, the Jones Act requires that equipment used in domestic shipping trade routes must be built in the U.S. We only own and operate marine equipment. We do not own or operate a shipyard. If “built in America” is done away with, significant jobs will be exported and significant skills will fade away. Yes, we as operators may be able to buy our equipment cheaper from a foreign shipyard. However, we feel that a vibrant shipbuilding industry is in our national interest. Trained, skilled, high-paying jobs for U.S. welders, pipefitters, laborers, and even supervisors would be outsourced to the lowest common denominator. Export our textile industry, which we already have done since there is no national security interest in doing so. Leave America’s mariners, shipyards, and longshoremen alone.
I have spent the past 50 years in the oil and gas industry, first as an independent oil trader, and now as a carrier of petroleum products for oil and gas majors, minors, and commodity trading companies. Capitalism is the foundation of America. But I refuse to allow folks to barter away a common sense national security element when it is unnecessary. I am a free trade guy except when it comes to our national security. I believe that our national security interests trump free trade, and I encourage your support of the Jones Act.