Last week, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, announced that he and 25 bipartisan members of Congress sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget urging the agencies to develop and support a plan to design and replace the ships used by our nation’s six state maritime academies.
In the November letter, the lawmakers expressed concern over the aging multimission vessels being used to train future generations of maritime workers and 70% of new Coast Guard licensed officers each year. While the average ship is 35-years-old, SUNY Maritime College’s Empire State VI, which serves as the training ship for other maritime schools, is 52 — well past its useful lifespan.
The full text of the letter to Anthony Foxx, the Transportation secretary, and Shaun Donovan, OMB director, is below:
November 21, 2014
Dear Secretary Foxx and Director Donovan:
We would like to draw your attention to a major challenge facing our nation’s maritime industries and urge you to develop and support a plan to design and replace the country’s multi-mission vessels.
As you know, the maritime industry is an essential part of our nation’s economy, in addition to playing a critical role in national security. Each year, the industry creates over $100 billion in output, employing 1.5 million Americans and paying tens of billions in wages and benefits. The United States has long maintained a strong maritime industry because of concerted investments in the sector, including in the ships used by the nation’s six State Maritime Academies (SMAs).
Now, however, the academies find themselves without a clear program to replace their seriously-aging multi-mission training vessels. Without these vessels, the SMAs will not have sufficient means to train future generations of maritime workers, not to mention 70 percent of the nation’s new United States Coast Guard licensed officers each year. This would harm thousands of students from all 50 states who receive training at the academies, and it couldn’t come at a worse time – the Department of Labor estimates that the industry will grow by 15 percent over the next four years, including jobs in shipping, natural resources and more. But, if we don’t fully prepare our own students there is a real risk those jobs could go elsewhere.
Our nation’s students aren’t the only ones who would benefit from replacing these aging vessels. The American shipbuilding industry could benefit greatly from the development of the SMA ships. These investments create a broader ripple throughout the economy – the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) estimates that every job in the shipbuilding industry indirectly supports 2.7 jobs in related industries. And most importantly, these jobs would be created right here at home, directly benefiting American workers who are still recovering from the recent economic recession.
Those beyond the maritime industry would also benefit from ship replacement. That’s because in addition to providing federally-mandated at-sea training, the vessels serve on missions related to national security, particularly during national emergencies like natural disasters. For example, the ships were deployed to provide needed assistance following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Superstorm Sandy in New York. Having more available and reliable vessels can make all the difference in the aftermath of a disaster by allowing humanitarian assistance to reach thousands of additional people and help areas recover.
The average age of the SMA ships is 35 years. In the case of SUNY Maritime College, Empire State VI is 52 years old, near the end of its useful lifespan. The ships used by other academies will soon reach the end of their life spans as well. To address their critical need, the SMAs have begun the process of recapitalizing the academy training vessel fleet, and we strongly urge you to request the funds for a new ship design and multi-year replacement budget in your FY2016 budget request. A proactive programmatic approach is required to recapitalize the aging training ship fleet.
Thank you for your attention to the important role of modern training vessels.
Robert J. Wittman
William R. Keating
Jose E. Serrano
Timothy H. Bishop
Charles B. Rangel
William L. Owens
Carolyn B. Maloney
Eliot L. Engel
Peter T. King
Steven M. Palazzo
Michael H. Michaud
Elizabeth H. Esty
Frederica S. Wilson
Randy K. Weber, Sr.