Launch of a new open international registry in the US Virgin Islands. Maritime unions strongly condemn the idea.
A new open registry of U.S. Virgin Islands ships was officially launched Tuesday at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Maritime unions issued a joint statement condemning the idea.
The ship register is part of a “Plan for revitalizing American maritime commerce, trade and strategic competition,developed by the Northeast Maritime Institute’s Center for Ocean Policy and Economics (COPE) and “advised by a range of leading maritime industry thinkers”. Northeast Maritime College (NMI) is a private maritime college based in Massachusetts.
The plan was touted by its designers as “the most relevant maritime initiative of the past 75 years”, promising to “support and help resolve the US supply chain crisis, ensure sovereignty and maritime security and revitalize maritime trade”, according to a Press release announcing the launch.
During Tuesday’s event, the Honorable Albert Bryan, Jr., Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and NMI President Eric R. Dawicki participated in a signing ceremony inaugurating the registry.
According to a recently published white paper per NMI’s COPE outlining the plan, an open, self-contained international flag based in the U.S. Virgin Islands would provide “responsible and transparent oversight to a commercial fleet of foreign and domestic owned and operated vessels” and “enable the United States to command a diverse commercial fleet and reform international flag practices.
“A new secondary American flag dedicated to international trade and commerce would provide a significant increase in American tonnage; increase the United States’ maritime labor capacity; meeting higher international standards for seafarer safety; allow for greater monitoring of global trade; facilitate green seas initiatives and encourage U.S. funding, investment, and ownership in national maritime initiatives,” the document explains.
Through the Virgin Islands’ official relationship with the United States, USVI-flagged commercial vessels could help bolster the nation’s military sealift capability, while benefiting from the same protections provided to the commercial fleet under U.S. flag by relevant U.S. agencies, including the U.S. Navy. , Coast Guard and Special Forces, “especially in global hotspots,” the newspaper said.
“Creating an open, international U.S. Virgin Islands registry will increase the number of U.S.-flagged vessels crossing the world’s oceans. USVI-flagged vessels will enjoy the same level of protection as their US-flagged counterparts when traveling around the world,” writes COPE.
Since the USVI is exempt from the Jones Act, COPE believes that founding a new shipping registry there “allows the United States to maintain the regulatory framework of the Jones Act, a ‘separate, but one’ policy, and at the same time increase the United States’ international competitiveness and influence in the global maritime community,” according to the newspaper.
Other action items listed in the revitalization plan include the development of a short sea transshipment hub in the Caribbean to help ease congestion, the creation of “public/private/international partnerships to address maritime issues strategies, increasing transparency and enforcing legal and ethical standards,” and establishing and implementing a green shipping strategy, including the decarbonization of the US-flagged fleet. There are also plans for a maritime venture capital fund and “state-of-the-art” education and training in the United States and abroad to help modernize the maritime workforce.
Maritime unions denounce the register
Responding to the launch of the registry, a number of US-based labor organizations (including the American Maritime Organization, Sailors Union of the Pacific, Seafarers’ International Union, International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association and the Marine Firemen’s Union) issued a statement strongly condemning the idea and calling on the Department of Defense, Maritime Administration, Biden administration and Congress to “reject any suggestion that ships flying the flag of the US Virgin Islands would be treated as if they were flying the US flag”. and American-crewed ships for any purpose or program.
“On behalf of licensed and unlicensed American Merchant Seamen who have proudly and without fail served our country since its founding, we oppose in the strongest possible terms the creation of an open registry in the Virgin Islands, a territory of the United States,” the unions said in the joint statement.
The unions argue that an open US registry will bring no more benefit to the United States than any other flag of convenience to its flag country, and called the move an “affront to American sailors”.
“The proposed open registry for the Virgin Islands flag of convenience will not benefit the United States or the U.S. shipping industry, any more than any other open second registry will benefit a national flag country. In fact, the creation and growth of second registries by other industrialized nations has done little more than decimate their national fleets to the point that they are no longer able to provide the military security and logistical support needed for their flag nations”, according to the trade unions.
“At its core, this proposal, allowing ships to operate with foreign sailors under an open registry in the United States, is an affront to American sailors who have always put themselves in harm’s way whenever our nation has called for it.” , they say.
The statement, which can be read in full here, is signed by:
- David Connolly, President, Union of Pacific Seamen
- Paul Doell, President, US Maritime Officers
- Dan Duncan, Secretary-Treasurer, Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO Don Marcus, President, International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots
- Anthony Poplawski, President, Union of Marine Firefighters
- Greg Regan, Chairman, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
- Michael Sacco, President, Seafarers’ International Union
- Adam Vokac, President, Beneficial Association of Marine Engineers