Called the “fourth arm of defense” by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1935, the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine ensures that the United States will have the sealift it needs to carry-out its military, humanitarian, and commercial objectives overseas, and ensures the availability of U.S.-controlled, U.S.-crewed maritime assets to keep commerce flowing in times of war and national emergencies.
U.S.-flag ships have been crucial partners to the supply of our troops overseas in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. They also routinely brave attack in pirate-infested waters to deliver U.S. food aid to starving populations in East Africa, ensuring the success of our nation’s humanitarian objectives; and have been instrumental to the relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina and the earthquakes in both Haiti and Japan.
Our nation’s cargo preference laws are essential to the preservation of the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine. These laws ensure that when the U.S. Government ships cargo, at least a portion of it is carried on U.S.-flag vessels crewed by American mariners. This public-private partnership between the deep water U.S.-flag fleet and the U.S. Government provides enormous savings to the U.S. taxpayers. According to the Department of Defense, approximately $10 billion in capital costs and another $1 billion in annual operating costs would be required to replicate the assets it obtains from the commercial U.S. Merchant Marine
Maritime Industry Brochure (view online)
The big thing here is we have not had to activate one military vessel to handle this. It’s all been handled by our commercial partners . . . . We have a commercial first (policy)- if we can use commercial, it’s the cheapest way to do it, and it keeps our US-flag fleet strong, it’s good for jobs- all of those things are positives. They have done superbly and what I would say is our bigger worry is what happens to the US-flag fleet as we come down perhaps from some of the requirements- we’re depending on them now and we are working very closely to make sure that we maintain that robustness. They do depend on cargo preference and they do depend on the Maritime Security Program MSP, and those two programs are really valuable so that we have a strong US-flag fleet, which is in the interest of the taxpayer and in the interests of the warfighter.
General Duncan McNabb, Commander, United States Transportation Command, 2011
A strong U.S.-flag commercial fleet needs our nation’s cargo preference laws … People around the world look to the U.S. flag as a symbol of hope and determination. Ships flying Old Glory with American crews are important icons of our resolve.
Senator Barack Obama, 2008
The Department of Defense supports an strong a viable United States merchant marine which provides DOD with needed U.S.-flag vessels and mariners during war. The Cargo Preference and Maritime Security Programs are vital to the U.S. Merchant Marine and DOD. Any change in cargo preference that would adversely impact the U.S. merchant marine will have a similar negative impact on DOD’s mobilization capabilities.
Bradley M. Berkson,former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Material Readiness, 2004
The maritime industry has been a key contributor to our economic strength and security since our Nation was founded. Its continued growth and prosperity is necessary for the economic renewal we all seek.
President Ronald Reagan, 1981