The second Maritime Administration symposium held this week to gather input from the industry in crafting a National Maritime Strategy had a very different feel than the first one in January.
It was shorter — just one day, not two. Gone was the perky facilitator cajoling participants to get out of their comfort zones and sit with people they didn’t know from different companies or sectors. There were fewer “breakout” groups, and the line was a tad shorter for the $11 buffet lunch. And unlike that cold, gray day in January, sun poured through the window roof of the atrium inside the modern DOT building in Washington.
This meeting was more specific than the last one, which touched on potential solutions to the problems dragging down the U.S.-flag fleet. This one focused on domestic shipping, ports and shipbuilding. The organizers were trawling for much more specific problems, and more specific solutions.
There were calls to preserve the Jones Act and Title XI loan guarantees, discussions about what a poor job the industry and Marad does in selling the industry to the general public, the need to develop a strong short-sea shipping industry, ways to attract new freight to the waterways and concerns about the future reliability of inland infrastructure.
But by far the hot topic was LNG — bunkering and transport — and how this growing energy market can be best captured by shipbuilders and carrier companies. It was interesting to learn that the U.S. is far behind other nations — notably South Korea and Japan — in LNG ship construction, even though the U.S. has a formidable capacity to produce liquified natural gas.
Many ideas were kicked around: how about turning the Merchant Marine Academy into a Department of Transportation Academy that would cover all modes of transportation, not just maritime, thus teaching the interconnectivity of transport modes? How about shipyards get into the bridge-building business, since rigs used to lift things in place for offshore wind farms are similar to those used in bridge construction? How about using the GI bill to train veterans for jobs in the maritime industry?
The symposium drew heavy participation from the inland sector, shipbuilding, ports and the maritime unions. But there was scant representation from the customers — those who contract the barges and use the ports to transport their products. Farmers, retailers, oil and construction companies, coal mining, steel manufacturers, cement and fertilizer makers — what are their concerns and ideas for a national strategy? As the fact-finding, solution-drafting process continues to mature and evolve, Marad should reach out and welcome them into the discussion.