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Ports press Congress, Biden for emergency funds

Waterborne trade volume down 5.5% despite surges at container terminals, coalition warns

Biden asked to support funding new maritime relief program. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves and the White House)

A coalition of 37 maritime industry groups is asking Congress and President Joe Biden to fund a new relief program to strengthen an industry weakened by the effects of COVID-19.

“Despite container surges at several large ports, commercial cargo volumes have plummeted across the industry — total waterborne trade volume is down 5.5% compared to last year, while the value of this trade has crashed by 12.7% totaling $200 billion,” the groups, which included the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA), warned in letters sent to congressional leaders and the White House on Tuesday.

“Passenger movements remain virtually nonexistent with operations not expected to resume for months. Expenses have greatly increased due to COVID-19 protocols and precautions that have been put in place to ensure the health and safety of staff, and these extra costs borne by the industry to keep supply lines open are above and beyond the normal costs of operations.”

The groups also warned that the trends are likely to continue and worsen as the pandemic intensifies over the next several months.

“To date, no dedicated funding has been provided in any of the COVID-19 legislative packages to assist the maritime transportation system despite emergency relief being provided to other modes of transportation.”

The groups want to see money for the industry included in the next COVID-19 relief bill and funded through the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief Program, a new program created as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020. It authorizes the U.S. Maritime Administration to award grants due to emergencies, including the current pandemic.

Those eligible for receiving money from the fund include U.S. entities in maritime transportation, including vessel owners and operators, ship construction, and maritime training. Eligible costs for relief include cleaning, sanitization, personal protective equipment, fuel, debt payments, workforce retention, and infrastructure repair.

“During these uncertain times, the U.S. maritime industry and its workforce has sustained the movement of food, medical supplies, and other essential goods to our communities,” commented AAPA President and CEO Christopher Connor. “This emergency relief will ensure operational continuity at the elevated level which Americans have come to depend on.”

Maritime regulators recently appealed directly to Biden that immediate vaccinations be given to U.S. dockworkers, many of whom work at the country’s largest container ports. The risk is particularly high at ports in Southern California, where COVID-19 outbreaks have intensified.

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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.