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Commissioner Bentzel Statement: The Health of Our Maritime Industry Will Lead Our Economy Back

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The year 2020 illustrated our nation’s reliance on maritime transportation and international trade. Our society has adopted necessary, but dramatic, changes in how we work, travel, and go to school. The transportation sector has not been without impact. Aviation is down close to 50%, and the cruise industry has been literally docked because of COVID-19. But the endurance of the maritime industry has kept our supply chain moving and our economy connected, and it will serve as a foundation as we look to recover as a country in 2021.

I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the workers and businesses that comprise the Delaware River maritime industry. Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to the longshoremen, truckers, railroad workers, and all the different companies that comprise the maritime industry for remaining on the job daily to continue to deliver cargo essential for our nation’s survival.

Looking ahead to 2021, the maritime industry and supply chain still face challenges. We must vaccinate maritime and transportation workers as quickly and efficiently as possible. If we do not adopt policies recognizing the maritime workforce as essential workers and implementing a plan to protect them, we risk a potential COVID-19 workforce disruption that might cause an enormous risk to our economy and to overall economic recovery.

To drive this point home, last month I and my fellow FMC Commissioner Dan Maffei sent a letter to the MARAD Administrator and CDC Director requesting that the maritime and supply chain workforces be vaccinated quickly. Specifically, we encouraged those federal agencies to take a proactive approach, engaging with states and local governments for funding and initiating partnerships to better facilitate the distribution and administration of vaccinations for maritime workers.

I appreciate Maritime Exchange President Dennis Rochford and his team weighing in with MARAD and CDC. Similarly, I applaud the Delaware River maritime industry leadership and labor organizations for coordinating closely on weekly calls and actively working with each port authority to coordinate timelines to vaccinate the maritime workforce with the hope of setting up a mass vaccination event. Your local partnerships set a strong example.

A healthy economy begins locally. Last month at the ports of Philadelphia, Delaware, and South Jersey 50 International Longshoremen’s Association members tested positive for COVID-19. Ports and the maritime workforce connect communities and businesses. If one part of the supply chain is weak, then the entire supply chain is weak — and vulnerable to COVID-19.

Throughout the entirety of the pandemic, the maritime industry has continued to function. Freight volumes have remained steady and, in some cases, increased over last year’s numbers. The industry continues to battle through unprecedented cargo volume surges while addressing the operational challenges of chassis and container availability.

We can expect big things this year in the maritime industry, but the first few months of 2021 are critical. With the Biden Administration taking office last month, I expect that infrastructure, trade, and strengthening our supply chain will be top priorities. However, our country cannot fully embrace and build on the strength of our maritime industry until we ensure the health and safety of our workforce.

Finally, I recommend taking a moment to view this two-minute film, which reinforces the importance of all the maritime industry does each day.

Carl W. Bentzel is a Commissioner with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission. The thoughts and comments expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.

This was also published as a guest editorial featured in the Winter 2021 edition of The Beacon, the official publication of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay.”