U.S. TRANSCOM – Commanding General William Fraser III today said maintaining a strong domestic maritime industry is critical to the defending the homeland, describing the sector as the “fourth arm of defense.” The Air Force General’s remarks came at a National Maritime Day celebration at the Washington Navy Yard.
“Maintaining a national maritime industrial base and strong partnerships with the commercial maritime industry is critically important to the Department of Defense,” Gen. Fraser said. “A strong commercial American industry is particularly important during times of budget cuts.”
General Fraser’s remarks came on the 79th anniversary of National Maritime Day, which annually recognizes the men and women of the U.S. merchant marine for their contributions to American commerce and the U.S. military. In 1933, Congress designated May 22nd as American Maritime Day to commemorate the U.S.-flag steamship SAVANNAH embarking on what was the first-ever transoceanic voyage under steam power in 1819.
This historic voyage was the first of many maritime milestones attributed to the U.S. merchant marine. In the decades that have followed, American companies and mariners have pioneered innovations such as the containership, self-unloading vessel, articulated tug-barge units, railroad-on-barge carfloats and many other breakthroughs.
The Jones Act, the federal law that promotes the U.S. merchant marine of skilled seafarers and U.S.-flagged vessels, has made these innovations possible. By maintaining a viable domestic maritime industry, this law enables the flow of domestic waterborne commerce and supports a naval and military auxiliary in times of war or national emergency.
Today, the maritime industry is the most economical form of domestic transportation, moving more than 1 billion tons of cargo annually at a fraction of the cost of other modes. This efficient transportation mode helps the economy run smoothly and sustains nearly 500,000 jobs. It is also good for the environment as ships and tug/barge units use less fuel and produce fewer emissions than land-based modes of transportation.
The maritime sector plays an indispensible national defense role, fulfilling key support functions for the U.S. military. During Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (2002-2010), U.S.-flag commercial vessels, including ships and seafarers drawn from the domestic trades, transported 90 percent of all military cargoes moved to Afghanistan and Iraq.