Full speed ahead on National Maritime Day

Almost 200 years ago today, an American-built ship set sail from Savannah, Georgia, on the first steam-powered transoceanic voyage—a harbinger of the technological innovation and maritime might that would come to define our country’s global leadership. Now, we celebrate May 22 as National Maritime Day, honoring the U.S. Merchant Marine and the maritime industry as critical components of our nation’s economy and national security.

America has over 95,000 miles of coastline. Yet our recognition today of our identity as a maritime nation has to be more than celebration—it must be a rallying cry. Since 1955, when the U.S. Merchant Marine was at its peak and over a thousand vessels flew the U.S. Flag, our fleet has dwindled to less than two hundred ships. Let this National Maritime Day mark our commitment to revive the industry that has come to the aid of our armed forces in times of war, delivered food aid to hungry nations in times of peace, and promoted our trade and commerce. Let’s rebuild the American maritime industry, one hundred ships at a time.

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The innovations of the past have long since been replaced by the technologies of the present. Thanks to the natural gas boom that has transformed the energy future not only of America, but of the world, we are witnessing one such breakthrough today. The power natural gas packs as a fuel has the potential to revive the U.S.-Flag fleet and bolster our national security while creating good shipbuilding and mariner jobs—if we get this right.

Global interest in importing U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) is rising, amplified by geopolitical concerns about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and the possibility that Europe will need to look elsewhere for its energy needs. The Department of Energy has already approved seven LNG export applications. Over one hundred LNG ships will be needed to transport the LNG from the first seven terminals. This is a historic opportunity to rebuild the U.S. maritime fleet. LNG exports should be shipped on U.S.-flag tankers, built in America and crewed by American mariners.

The maritime industry should benefit from the sale of this strategic national asset, just as the energy industry is set to profit. Such a requirement would invigorate our shipbuilding industry, create maritime jobs, and help the U.S. maintain its naval superiority by encouraging the necessary investments to maintain and enhance our shipyards and our technological edge. By requiring American LNG to be exported on American-made ships, we would create a long-term market for American-built ships, thus sustaining the revitalization of our shipyards and sailors. Policies like this already exist in the PL-480 program, the Export-Import Bank export requirement, and the Jones Act. "Ship American” standards must not only be preserved—they must be strengthened.

As ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, I have watched broad swaths of industry come together to debate the realization of this proposal. If we are to succeed in the fight for good U.S. jobs, strategic opportunities, and the future of the U.S. Merchant Marine, it will take the active participation and energy of all stakeholders. It will take those of us in Congress breaking from the list of reasons why we can’t use this opportunity to turn the U.S. Flag around, and joining the growing chorus demanding that we seize it. May a future National Maritime Day find us remembering this moment as the inflection point that sent U.S.-flag fleet numbers escalating once again.

Garamendi has represented central California congressional districts since 2009. He sits on the Armed Services and Agriculture committees, and is ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.