House Committee Holds Hearing on COVID-19 Impact on U.S. Maritime Sector

The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is looking into the impact of the global novel coronavirus on the U.S. maritime supply chain and the maritime workforce as well as strategies to improve the nation’s marine transportation industry.

In opening remarks during a virtual Washington D.C. hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 9, committee chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore, noted that over the past year the maritime industry has endured significant hardships and substantial impacts to business.

“With so much of U.S. trade and our national economy dependent on a seamlessly efficient global maritime supply chain, it is critical that we understand the impacts and implications moving forward as we shape recovery actions and future responses to national emergencies,” DeFazio said. The situation is complicated by the fact that certain portions of the industry weren’t faring well even before the pandemic, he said, with the internationally trading fleet shrunk to 85 vessels and carrying less than 1.5 percent of the goods entering and exiting domestic ports.

“Without a robust U.S. flag maritime industry, we would not have the mariners needed to go to war or supply our internationally deployed members of the military,” he said.

Constructive action must begin now to support all sectors of the maritime supply chain, from Coos Bay to Port Miami to revitalize the economy, he said.

Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-CA, and chair of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, told the committee that many passenger vessels operating in the Jones Act trade lost the entirety of their 2020 operating season. While passenger vessels and ferries are one of the few sectors of the maritime industry to receive federal assistance, they were left to compete for that assistance with other modes of passenger transportation, he said.

Meanwhile the remainder of the maritime industry had to shoulder the burden of increased costs of new safety measures, acquiring protective gear and complying with public health measures while other industries received federal assistance, he said.

Carbajal called for funding of the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief program, to protect American maritime jobs and assist operators struggling to stay afloat.