Capt. Richard Phillips Joins Maritime Caucus Briefing

Navy League-Supported Event Highlights Critical Role of U.S.-flag Merchant Ships to Security, Economy

ARLINGTON, Va — Merchant Marine Capt. Richard Phillips, who was master of the Maersk Alabama when the vessel was captured by Somali pirates, was a special guest at a Nov. 20 Congressional Maritime Caucus Brief.  Captain Phillips was held hostage in the Maersk Alabama’s lifeboat for several days before being rescued by Navy SEAL marksmen.  Also speaking at the Navy League-supported event were Merchant Marine Capt. Steve Werse, secretary-treasurer of the Master, Mates & Pilots Union, and retired Navy Adm. Rob Reilly, Navy League national vice president, Sea Services Liaison.  The panel drew attention to the key and necessary role U.S. flag merchant vessels and crew play in U.S. economic prosperity and national security. 

The Maritime Caucus is co-chaired by U.S. Reps. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., and Cedric Richmond, D-La.

All members of the panel, beginning with Phillips, emphasized that the United States is and has been a nation that is dependent on its merchant fleet for economic health and security.  The United States is bounded by two oceans with remarkable access to ocean bound trade.  Despite having a thriving merchant fleet in the 19th Century, U.S.-flag maritime shipping is now a much smaller yet still critical part of the national economic infrastructure.  As exemplified by Phillips and Werse, U.S. citizen mariners are humble, yet highly skilled and patriotic Americans.

The panel made clear that a healthy Merchant Marine fleet is an economic imperative for the United States.  Ninety percent of world trade travels by ocean.  Shipping via the ocean and waterways is far cheaper than other methods, such as trucking or airfreight.  The U.S.-flag Merchant Marine fleet has reached such a low size that any change to current programs would have disastrous consequences on sustainability.  There are fewer than 100 U.S.-flag merchant ships and 12,000 U.S. Merchant Mariners.

U.S.-flag merchant vessels are a boon to the country both economically and militarily, often with the two roles occurring simultaneously.  The U.S. Navy maintains both the Maritime Security Program and the Ready Reserve Force to preserve the Navy’s military sealift capability and capacity.  The Maritime Security Program is made up of 60 U.S.-flag vessels manned by U.S. crews.  During wartime they are called upon to transport troops, weapons, vehicles, supplies and other items to the front lines.  The Ready Reserve Force consists of older ships that are maintained by ghost crews so that they are ready to be called into service if needed.  The U.S. merchant fleet provides 95 percent of our national defense sealift needs during wartime or crises.  Without the proper funding to support the merchant fleet and their crews, the United States would not be able to execute its foreign policy goals.

Other shipping preference laws provide the country with great benefit.  While also maintaining vessels necessary for military sealift, they also help fulfill other foreign policy objectives and create numerous economic benefits.  American food aid directly employs 13,000 Americans, generates approximately $520 million in household earnings, and almost $2 billion in economic activity. 

The Navy League of the United States is a civilian nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to informing the American people and their government that the United States of America is a maritime nation, and that its national defense and economic wellbeing are dependent upon strong sea services — U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and U.S.-flag Merchant Marine.

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