National Maritime Day: Substance or Symbolism Only?

The significance of May 22nd is purely up to you…

You may or may not know that a week from today, May 22nd, is officially proclaimed as Maritime Day. A number of events are planned during the three day period that surrounds this celebration, including a National Maritime Day Observance Ceremony, sponsored by the U.S. Maritime Administration and featuring Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters as speaker. I've been invited to a couple of events and also plan to be in Washington during that period. For all of us in the maritime business, the day should take on special meaning, especially as we reflect on the state of the industry during a particularly focused political season. At the end of the day, however, I fear that next Thursday will be nothing more than another excuse for people to get out of the office for a few hours.

Two weeks ago, MarEx reached out to the three remaining Presidential hopefuls in the off chance that one or all would revert with some meaningful insight as to their positions on the issues that are important to maritime executives everywhere. Six E-mails later from the Obama campaign (and no one else), I am well up-to-speed on the delegate count on the Democrat's side of the ledger, but little else. From where I sit, we are well on our way to another administration that gives lip service and little more to the most important form of transportation for this island nation of ours. And, I don't think it will matter who wins in November.

There's a bunch of things that we can hope for, however. A revised Coast Guard Authorization bill that adequately funds the mission(s) without setting up ridiculous policy deadlines that cannot possibly be met would be a good start. And when Transportation Secretary (and highway expert) Mary Peters gives her Maritime Day speech on the National Mall next Thursday, I hope that her remarks reflect the fact that the best way out of the nation's highway congestion and infrastructure problems is to ramp up the maritime component of our transportation system in the form of a vigorous shortsea shipping program. They don't call it America's Marine Highway for nothing.

The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) is but one of many spokes of the DOT wheel and is far from the best funded of those transport modes. The past 18 months have been productive ones at MARAD, but just think of how much more could be accomplished if Sean Connaughton wasn't operating with the proverbial (financial) arm tied behind his back. And, as I alluded to earlier, the sooner this country – and its leaders – wake up to the fact that we are an island nation that depends heavily on ocean commerce and robust sealift capabilities, the better off we all will be. To be fair, however, the blame for this benign neglect in our sector of the economy cannot all be laid at the doorstep of Washington politicians.

Despite the plethora of good news and focused efforts to improve the environmental footprint and safety of the maritime industry in this country and abroad, we as an industry are poor messengers for that information. The general public still has little understanding of what ocean commerce entails, where their consumables come from and everything else. On the offshore exploration side of the equation, I am quite certain that there would be more areas in U.S. waters open to drilling and energy development if only people could be properly educated as to the good safety records and environmental standards now in play. Washington politicians are not going buck the will of the public, no matter how ill-informed they may be, and get sent packing in the next election as a result. As a result, energy development in this country for the next four years will be effectively stymied.

On Thursday, as you stand at attention next to the Congresswoman or Senator that pops in for the "photo opportunity," take a moment to tug on their sleeve before he or she slips away and tell them what's on your mind. I just did. Now, it is your turn and I'm betting dollars-to-doughnuts that they are more likely to listen to you than they are to me. We need to deliver the good news and MarEx readers are the best conduit for that message. Next Thursday is a good day to start, don't you think? – MarEx

Joseph Keefe is the Managing Editor of THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE. He can be reached at jkeefe@maritime-executive.com with comments or questions on this or any other piece in this e-newsletter.


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