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Lawmaker introduces bill to guarantee more US-flag shipping

Garamendi proposal would boost government cargo minimum tonnages to 75%

American flag flies off a container ship as it passes Manhattan skyline. (Photo: AP/Seth Wenig)

A bipartisan bill aimed at invigorating U.S.-flag shipping for international government cargo was introduced Friday by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif.

The Rebuilding the United States-Flag International Fleet Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, would restore a requirement that at least 75% of gross seaborne tonnage for international food aid programs be carried on US-flagged vessels.

The requirement, in place from 1985 to 2012, was repealed by the current law that lowered the minimum tonnage requirement to 50%.

“For too long, Congress and both Democratic and Republican presidents have allowed the commercial fleet of U.S.-flagged, ocean-going vessels to dwindle,” Garamendi asserted while introducing the bill. “The global supply chain crunch during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian invasion and blockade of Ukraine, and the People’s Republic of China’s island building in the South China Sea and saber-rattling in the Taiwan Strait have shown that the United States cannot remain reliant on foreign vessels flying flags of convenience.”

A report published in September by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the use of U.S.-flag vessels by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Department of Agriculture decreased for both agencies by about 46% from 2012-20. 

“This decline was due, in part, to a statutory reduction in the minimum percentage of food aid required to be carried on U.S.-flag vessels from 75% to 50%, beginning in fiscal year 2013,” the report concluded. 

In addition to restoring the 75% government export minimum, the legislation, according to Garamendi, would also:

— Restore a DOT requirement reimbursing international food aid programs for any cost premium under the U.S.-flagged vessel cargo preference to protect the federal budget from increased shipping costs.

— Reaffirm the U.S. Maritime Administration as the only federal agency able to waive the U.S.-flag requirement for government cargo when such vessels are unavailable at fair and reasonable rates.

— Strengthen transparency and oversight by requiring public notice online of all waivers of the U.S.-flag requirement and timely notification to Congress, as required for Jones Act waivers.

— Allow foreign vessels seeking federal cargo contracts to be re-flagged into the U.S. registry for less than three years, provided they satisfy similar requirements as vessels enrolled in the Maritime Security Program.

— Clarify that the current U.S.-flagged vessel requirement for international food aid applies to all agricultural products, including processed food, and not just commodity crops.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.