Monday, March 16, 2009

"It's time Americans went back to sea."

The American Merchant Marine has one hell of an ally on the West Coast. His name is Stas Magaronis and he is the president of Santa Maria Shipping, a subsidiary of Santa Maria Shipowning & Trading. Santa Maria has been a family owned business for generations and together with his cousin he has been trying to build a ship in the United States since 1998.

I heard Mr. Magaronis speak on one of my favorite maritime pod casts, Messing About In Ships this morning to discuss the need for revitalizing the United State's Marine Highway System.
Santa Maria Shipping has introduced a Marine Highway Bill to the House Transportation Committee to reauthorize money for the title 11 loan guarantee program. This bill, if passed, would provide $350 million dollars to back American shipyards in constructing a fleet of up to 66 purpose built Short Seas Shipping vessels.

According to Mr. Magaronis a fleet of this many low sulfur burning container ships would remove 20,000 trucks from the nations overcrowded coastal highway corridors while burning only 2/3 of the fuel necessary for each truck load of cargo. The construction and cargo handling operations for these vessels would create 20,000 jobs while the operation of the fleet would create jobs for 2,000 American Merchant Mariners.

He compared the importance of this initiative to rebuild America's coastal transportation to the need for building Liberty Ships during World War Two. The over reliance on foreign heavy industry has not only withered the United State's shipyard building capacities but discouraged banks from lending the capital necessary to begin a viable short seas shipping program here at home because of the long held risk associated with domestic maritime ventures.

Mr. Margonis addressed the difference between tug and barge transportation and the more efficient short seas ship used by all large maritime nations, especially in Europe and Asia. A ship specifically designed for mostly 53' containers would operate more efficiently and swiftly lending it's advantages to transporting containerized time sensitive cargoes. The tug and barge on the other hand is better suited for use on the vast inland waterways of the U.S. Designing these small ships specifically for 53 foot containers is important for encouraging large trucking companies to use the short seas routes to move freight quickly and at a lower cost while reducing CO2 emissions.

Most importantly this bill would create a heavy industry that has, with a few exceptions, been absent from the United States. Additionally for every manufacturing job created the multiplier effect creates four more jobs whereas a service industry job creates less than one. At a time when the world economy is in such a bad place the United States needs to take every step it can to create good paying, skilled labor jobs and to reduce our debt to foreign nations bringing heavy industries back to our shores. And of course most importantly to me, as Mr. Magaronis said "It's time Americans went back to sea" and this bill would definitely do just that.

The time has never been better to secure some of that stimulus money for building a true Short Seas Shipping system for the United States. The Obama administration has been friendly to the idea and we need it now more than ever before. Check out the Green Highway Initiative and sign the petition if you feel strongly about this. You can always write your representative in government as well.

From Deepwater Slideshow

While this photograph I took in Germany is not of a container vessel it is a picture of another vessel typical of Short Seas Shipping. The Roll On / Roll Off vessel handles cargoes like automobiles and other commodities better driven or pulled onto a ship than into a container, loaded onto a car trailer or onto a flat bed and trucked down I-95. Another piece in the Short Seas puzzle. Check out Coastal Connect for more information on this particular mode of transportation.

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