Sen. Kelly to propose legislation to strengthen commercial shipping

ARLINGTON, Va. — A U.S. senator is developing legislation meant to revitalize the U.S. commercial maritime industry, which he called an economic and national security imperative.

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., said Tuesday the government must include the Merchant Marine as part of its effort to deter China.

Speaking at an event by the Center for Maritime Strategy and the Naval War College Foundation, he said he has readied but not yet filed legislation that seeks to accomplish three goals.

First, he said, it’s meant make it more cost-competitive to operate a U.S.-flagged merchant ship. American law requires a U.S.-flagged vessel to move goods between two American ports — but for international shipping, it’s much cheaper for private companies to move their goods on foreign ships.

“There are some tools in the toolbox for the Maritime Security Program, to the tax system, that we can consider to make U.S. flags more attractive,” said Kelly, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

Second, the senator said his bill seeks to grow American shipbuilding capacity by expanding existing shipyards and supporting the creation of new ones to build commercial ocean-going ships. These ships would conduct private business most of the time, but the military could call them into service if a conflict erupted.

Kelly said the Navy would have to do its part in this effort, committing to buying more sealift ships to support this expanded industrial base.

And third, the senator said, his bill will invest in the maritime workforce by helping the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and state maritime schools increase their enrollment, prioritizing maritime careers in federal workforce development programs, and boosting tax and licensing incentives for experienced mariners to stay on the job with American shipping companies.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done to revitalize this industry,” Kelly said.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro has increasingly viewed the commercial maritime industry as pivotal to a strong military fleet — both because the Pentagon would lean on these merchant ships for sealift missions in the event of war, but also to bolster the overall shipbuilding and ship repair industry needed for warships.

He recently convened the first-ever meeting of the Government Shipbuilders Council so the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Transportation and Commerce could begin to align their shipbuilding and ship repair plans.