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Gibbs Statement from Hearing on the U.S. Maritime Industry & Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Ranking Member Bob Gibbs (R-OH) from today’s hearing entitled, “State of U.S. Maritime Industry: Impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic”:

Thank you, Chair Carbajal, and congratulations on your first hearing as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.  I look forward to working with you in the 117th Congress.

I’d also like to welcome two new Subcommittee Members on this side of the aisle: Jeff Van Drew, who represents U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May through which all enlisted members of the Coast Guard enter the Service, and the District formerly held by the long-serving Chairman of this Subcommittee, Frank LoBiondo; and Nicole Malliotakis, who represents U.S. Coast Guard Sector New York and Station New York, which are both located on Staten Island.  I also thank the witnesses for attending from wherever they are located today.

I would like to know more about reports that U.S. ag exporters are having trouble finding sufficient containers to meet the needs of U.S. exporters.  I am interested in hearing from witnesses whether the pressure to swiftly return empty boxes to China has impacted that availability of containers for U.S. ag exports.  I’m particularly interested to learn if ag exports have been delayed, or if there has been a switch back to the use of bulk shipping for ag commodities. 

At the very end of the last Congress, the Maritime Transportation Emergency Relief program was authorized as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY ’21.  I supported adoption of that program as part of a T&I Committee amendment which also included assistance for port development and mariner education and training.  No funds have been provided for this program.

Thirty-eight maritime organizations, including two represented here today, have sent a letter to Congress seeking emergency relief under the new program.  The letter emphasizes an overall annual decrease in maritime commerce in 2020.  However, it does not address the unprecedented surge in traffic at U.S. ports which has occurred since August and is expected to last through the spring.  I am interested in hearing from the witnesses what the industry’s emergency relief needs are in light of the ongoing historic increase in container traffic at U.S. ports. 

Finally, I understand that the myriad of new, conflicting, and ad hoc travel restrictions around the world has led to delays in planned crew changes.  This has left many mariners trapped on their ships, unable to disembark or to travel through the countries from which they were scheduled to depart for home.  I have read that as many 300,000 mariners have been caught on ships well past the point at which they were due to rotate off.  I am interested in whether any U.S. mariners have faced these difficulties, and if so, what actions have been taken to allow reasonable crew changes to proceed. 

Again, I look forward to learning of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the U.S. Maritime Transportation System, ranging from U.S. shipbuilders and operators to our ports and marine terminal operators.   

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