In honor of National Maritime Day, U.S. Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Maryland), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, released the following statement:
"As the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, I am honored to take the opportunity afforded by National Maritime Day to pay tribute to our nation's Merchant Mariners and to the entire maritime industry.
"I also honor the tireless work of the men and women of the United States Coast Guard, who ensure the safety and security of our nation's ports, who protect our economic interests in the maritime environment around the world, and who every year, save the lives of thousands of mariners in distress.
"In 1933, the United States first honored our Merchant Marine by authorizing the designation of May 22 as National Maritime Day.
"Seventy-four years later, I particularly want to remember the estimated 250,000 Americans who served in the War Shipping Administration moving 95 percent of the goods and materiel used by the Allies during World War II.
"Some 20,000 of these Merchant Mariners were killed or wounded in that war - yielding among the U.S. Merchant Marine the highest casualty rate of any service according to the U.S. Maritime Service Veterans. Despite their service, U.S. Merchant Mariners still lack many of the benefits given to those who served in the other U.S. military forces engaged in World War II.
"Not until 1988 were World War II-era Merchant Mariners made eligible for services from the Veterans Administration. Not until 1998 were they made eligible for burial and cemetery benefits.
"U.S. Merchant Mariners have still never been made eligible for the GI Bill, or for the housing, educational, or unemployment benefits that the Bill provided for other U.S. veterans.
"While Veterans and burial benefits are important benefits long overdue to World War II- era Merchant Mariners, many of these Mariners were no longer with us when these benefits were extended - and even fewer of the World War II-era Mariners are with us today. For many, therefore, benefits provided now come too late.
"Further, even for those who are still with us, it is too late to give them the opportunities that they might have had had they been eligible for the benefits of the GI Bill at the conclusion of their service.
"I urge that the experience of these Mariners be a lesson to ensure that we will never again deny any veteran who has served the United States any of the benefits he or she has earned.
"I also honor today the vital role that our Merchant Marine continues to play in responding to our nation's emergencies. Most recently, U.S. Merchant Mariners helped evacuate an estimated 160,000 people from Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and provided aid and emergency assistance along the Gulf Coast to the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"Merchant Mariners also continue to provide the sealift capacity that keeps our armed forces equipped to fight the global war on terrorism. More than 8,000 Merchant Mariners serve in the Military Sealift Command
, and the Seafarers International Union has written that civilian crewed military support ships have moved some 79 million square feet of cargo to U.S. troops in Iraq and throughout the world.
"Unfortunately, despite their significant contribution to our national defense and to our economy, our Merchant Mariners and our maritime industries are almost invisible in our nation.
"There are 361 ports throughout the United States, of which, according to the American Association of Port Authorities, approximately 150 are publicly owned. These ports - and our nation's inland and coastal waterways - support nearly 5 million jobs and handle some 2 billion tons of cargo.
"While the industry may not be visible, the cargo it moves is certainly visible. If every person takes the time to look at the labels on their clothes or on the furnishings in their offices or homes, they are likely to find that these items arrived on a ship from a foreign destination. Were this commerce to be interrupted, our nation's economy could be devastated.
"And our reliance on our maritime industry is only going to grow. The U.S. Maritime Administration estimates that the total volume of trade handled by U.S. ports will double in the next 15 years - but we are not ready to meet the challenges this growth will bring.
"Our nation needs to build new port
capacity. We also urgently need to support the growth of short sea shipping so that cargo can be economically moved between domestic ports and so that we can help get trucks off of our increasingly congested highways. At the same time, we must also ensure that our maritime resources are protected from further degradation - and we must move aggressively to combat the introduction of invasive species through ballast water.
"Further, we need to ensure that our domestic maritime industry is poised to be a continuing part of the growth in the worldwide maritime industry. According to the Maritime Administration, in 2005, the U.S.-flag ocean-going fleet numbered fewer than 200 vessels, of which 106 ships were Jones Act vessels - meaning that fewer than 100 ocean-going vessels engaged in international trade bore the flag of the United States. As a result, 97 percent of the cargo transported to the United States is carried on foreign-flagged ships.
"In my capacity as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, I will continue to support the development of a comprehensive maritime policy that will protect the integrity of the Jones Act, that will support the Maritime Security Program, and that will promote the growth of the U.S.-flagged fleet competing in our foreign trade."