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National Maritime Day Ceremony

Remarks as prepared for delivery
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
National Maritime Day Ceremony
U. S. Department of Transportation
Washington, DC
Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Thank you, Admiral Buzby, for that introduction. We appreciate your leadership at the helm of the Maritime Administration. Let me also thank Deputy Administrator Richard Balzano, Chief Counsel Doug Barnett and the entire MARAD Team, for hosting this event. 

Today, we have some special guests: Acting Chairman, Michael A. Khouri, Federal Maritime Commission. Thank you for coming. 

Commissioner Kevin McAleenan of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection is also here. Commissioner, please convey our thanks to your colleagues for keeping our nation safe and secure.  

Also with us are:

  • General Darren McDew, USAF, Commander of U.S. Transportation Command;
  • Rear Admiral Jim Helis – Superintendent of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy;
  • Rear Admiral Michael Alfultis – President of SUNY Maritime College;
  • Rear Admiral Francis McDonald – President of Massachusetts Maritime Academy;
  • Rear Admiral Michael Rodriguez – Superintendent of Texas A&M Maritime Academy;
  • Rear Admiral Jerry Achenbach – Superintendent of Great Lakes Maritime;
  • Rear Admiral Dr. William J. Brennan – President of Maine Maritime Academy; and
  • Rear Admiral Thomas Cropper – President of California Maritime Academy.

With us as well is Augie Tellez – Executive Vice President of the Seafarers International Union.  President Mike Sacco and Executive Vice President Augie Tellez are among the country’s strongest advocates for mariners and the maritime industry. And let me welcome our guests from the U.S. Conference of Bishops and the Apostleship of the Sea:  Bishop Brendan Cahill, and Sister Joanna Okereke.

And last, but not least, we are so pleased to have four World War II-era Merchant Mariners here with us today: William Tiernan; Charles Mills; Eugene Barner; and Robert Weagant.

They are escorted by Laura Riddle and Sheila Sova who are volunteers for the American Merchant Marine Veterans.  Sheila’s father – Orville “Lee” Sova, and Laura’s father – Edward R. Johnson – have both “crossed the bar.”

The theme for this Maritime Day is “Voices: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” What an appropriate focus during this time of change and opportunity! The maritime community’s values are timeless, the product of centuries of hard-won experience:  stand by your shipmates, do your duty, train hard, and stay the course. Those voices continue to guide us with the wisdom that only experience can bring. These values will help the industry continue to adapt and evolve as new challenges and opportunities appear on the horizon.

However, one thing has remained constant: the critical role our US Flag merchant marine plays in our national security – as our flag says: “In Peace and War.” 

The Maritime Security Program (MSP) is a vital part of that readiness.  MARAD is currently conducting a study called MSP 4.0 to determine what direction the program needs to move in the future.  The Maritime Security Program is a great example of the public-private partnerships that are often talked about in the Administration’s infrastructure proposal. In this case, the Navy needs to move civilian and non-military goods around the world to vital locations. The Maritime Security Program links this need with commercial operators who have developed knowledge and networks of ports, pilots, stevedores, and port infrastructure, etc. For the Navy to try to replicate this experience and these connections would cost so much more than the prices the MSP program delivers. The Transportation Institute estimates that the MSP has saved the U.S. Navy $60 billion in transportation costs. So, to our MSP carriers who are represented here today: thank you for performing this vital service so efficiently and effectively for the Navy, our country and the American taxpayers.

We also appreciate the hard work done by our operating companies and the mariners who efficiently and professionally maintain the U. S. Government surge sealift ships in the Ready Reserve Force.  Last March 3, 2017, I paid a memorable visit to Beaumont, Texas. You ensure that those “first to go” ships answer the bell every time that General McDew calls for them.  Thank you and well done!

This year, we have something truly historic to celebrate. Since I’ve been Deputy Maritime Administrator and as Deputy Secretary of Transportation, there have been talks about when to replace the training ships. The current training ships are good ships, but they are, on average, 38 years old! The oldest, the EMPIRE STATE VI, at SUNY Maritime, is 56 years old, and has a steam power plant!  The KENNEDY of Massachusetts Maritime is 50 years old. Texas A&M’s GENERAL RUDDER is 34 years old, can only take 45 students aboard and cruises at just 11 knots.  California Maritime’s GOLDEN BEAR and Great Lakes Maritime’s STATE OF MICHIGAN are both 31 years old.  Maine Maritime Academy’s THE STATE OF MAINE, is 27 years old.

In this year’s omnibus appropriations bill passed on March 23, 2018, Congress has funded a new National Security Multi-mission Vessel (NSMV). This specially designed ship will provide an enhanced, modern training platform for maritime cadets. With helipads, roll on/roll off capability, and potable water production, the NSMV ships will provide better training both at sea and shoreside when they are docked at the maritime schools.  With more berth capacity, they will permit the maritime schools to accommodate more students. In addition, these vessels will be able to undertake a wide variety of missions, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. 

The importance of multi-mission capability came into close focus this past fall with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.  MARAD responded to the crisis with four ships and crews:  the KENNEDY, the EMPIRE STATE VI, the GENERAL RUDDER, and the RRF vessel, the WRIGHT.  They provided berthing spaces, food, water, and electrical power to first responders and other hurricane relief workers when there was a dearth in these devastated areas. The new multi-mission ships will allow the government to respond even more effectively in the future.

Details are still being finalized on how the NSMV program will be implemented. But SUNY Maritime led by Admiral Alfultis will get the first new multi-mission ship to replace the 56-year-old EMPIRE STATE VI.  And, hopefully, other replacement ships would follow. MARAD is hosting an industry day here for those interested in building the NSMV. It will be later this afternoon. I hope many of you can attend. 

The Department’s support for the maritime industry continues on shore, as well. As of 2018, the TIGER grant program helped fund 49 port-related projects, totaling $624 million over nine rounds.  The successor to the TIGER grants is called the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development or BUILD grant program. The BUILD program provides an even greater opportunity for port projects. With $1.5 billion in BUILD transportation funding this year – an increase of a billion dollars compared to last year – we need your help to get the word out to our vitally important ports around the country. They need to get their applications in before the July 18, 2018 deadline. The clock is ticking.  

Finally, we look forward to continuing to work with you to make sure the voice of the maritime industry is heard. This is a historic year but there is still more work ahead. We are gaining headway and the ship is headed fair. Thank you for joining us this morning.

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Updated: Monday, May 28, 2018
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