U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal this week led his first Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee hearing as chairman, and he discussed the pandemic’s impact on the American maritime sector.
He was elected chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s subcommittee Jan. 26.
In his opening remarks Tuesday morning, Rep. Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, said the subcommittee has a “long history of bipartisan cooperation” and that he looks forward to conducting oversight and passing on important legislation supporting the maritime industry and the Coast Guard.
“Commercial shipping carries more than 95% by volume of U.S. overseas trade. And yet, the presence of the U.S. flag fleet operating in international trade is diminishing,” he said. “In the past 35 years, we’ve seen the U.S. flag fleet drop from over 850 vessels to merely 85. The U.S. merchant marine — which provides a living wage to its American mariners, pays taxes in America and complies with American regulations — simply cannot compete with foreign fleets that pay little to no taxes, comply with the bare minimum regulations and pay substandard wages.”
He pointed out that maritime and seafaring is an “essential way of life” in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, along with the portions of Ventura County in his district, but in the wake of the pandemic, much of the industry had to shut down business and furlough employees.
Rep. Carbajal said that of the companies operating, most have experienced reductions in revenue by as much as 90% and laid off or furloughed as much as 80% of their employees.
“And while passenger vessels and ferries are one of the few sectors of the maritime industry to receive federal assistance, they were left to compete for this assistance with other modes of passenger transportation,” the congressman said. “The remainder of the maritime industry has been left to fend for itself.”
Rep. Carbajal applauded President Joe Biden for affirming support for the Jones Act, saying that the industry needs “strong federal support in order to weather this storm.”
To lift up the maritime industry, he suggested funding the Maritime Transportation System Emergency Relief program. In the hearing, he and the chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, heard from witnesses on the current state of the maritime industry.
“My hope is that this hearing will help inform the committee of the ongoing difficulties facing the maritime industry and identify areas of support that will allow the industry to emerge stronger than when the pandemic began,” Rep. Carbajal said. “We must ensure the marine transportation system continues to operate seamlessly and we must protect these essential, frontline workers.”
Last year, after the Conception Boat fire off the Santa Barbara coast that took 34 lives, Rep. Carbajal requested a hearing of the maritime subcommittee to question the National Transportation Safety Board about safety measures for small passenger boats. He then introduced and passed the Small Passenger Vessel Safety Act, which enacted safety reforms to the vessels in order to prevent future tragedies. The act was signed into law on Jan. 1.