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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Transcript: Maritime Administrator Rear Admiral Phillips 89th MM&P Convention Address

Thursday, August 4, 2022




Linthicum Heights, MD


Thank you Donald, for that warm introduction.  On behalf of the Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join you today.  

Let me begin today by thanking the members of Masters, Mates, & Pilots—as well as all of our nation’s mariners—for your work over the last two years.  
Even in the face of the unprecedented challenges associated with COVID, our mariners—and, indeed, labor throughout all parts of the supply chain—have demonstrated extraordinary resilience and professionalism to keep cargo flowing, including essential medical supplies.
Thank you for your service!
 Congressional Gold Medal
 I want to start with some exciting updates and news from MARAD.
 Earlier this year, Congress unveiled the WWII Merchant Mariners Congressional Gold Medal, honoring  and thanking the more than 240,000 Merchant Mariners who served during the war.  
I note also that the design was unveiled in late 2021 right here at MITAGS given the urgency of enabling our WWII merchant mariners to see it—but the design could not be publicly unveiled or discussed until the formal event in Congress.  
I am glad that everyone can now see how amazing the design is—and how great the care and attention was to both ensuring historical accuracy and depicting the unwavering resolve of our merchant mariners.  Thank you to MMP and to Captain Marcus for your support of this effort!
If you know a living WWII mariner, a duplicate of the gold medal is available to them at no cost.  And smaller copies are also available to the families of mariners who have passed.  Please let people know they should contact MARAD if they are interested in learning more. 
Offshore Wind
Let me turn now to an effort that will strengthen today’s maritime industry at the same time as it accelerates our energy independence—and that is the Administration’s work to advance the development of offshore wind installations.  
DOT recently joined a new Federal-State partnership that is working to advance the Administration’s priority of expanding the domestic offshore wind supply chain.  
Our Deputy Secretary, Polly Trottenberg, announced the designation of offshore wind vessels as Vessels of National Interest, making them eligible for priority consideration for financial support through the Title XI Federal Ship Financing Program (Title XI).  
The construction of new vessels is essential to support our offshore wind development—and will create new opportunities for our nation’s mariners.  
Another initiative that will strengthen the maritime industry is the development of the Tanker Security Program. 
As you know, the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act required MARAD, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, to establish a fleet of product tank vessels to meet national defense and other security requirements.  This program is intended to guarantee the military’s assured access to product tankers, particularly in contested environments.
Congress appropriated $60,000,000 for the 10-ship Tanker Security Program in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022, which effectively gave DOT/MARAD the ability to bring this program to life after what has been many years of effort.  
MARAD is working to develop the implementing regulations to start the program, with the goal of being able to receive applications for the program as soon as possible.  I note that there are many steps to this process, including interagency review and of course public comment.  
MARAD is very excited about the capabilities this program will provide and we are moving as quickly as we can.
 Let me now turn to two essential calls to action.  – supporting mariners and combating sexual assault and sexual harassment.  
Today, as it has always been, the life of a mariner is uniquely challenging and demanding.  And too often, our fellow Americans do not really understand these challenges.  
Of course, there are the prolonged periods of separation and the many personal sacrifices.  There is also the need to complete ongoing training requirements and, for MMP members, the many responsibilities that come with serving in leadership positions.
But, I don’t have to tell you that the COVID pandemic has made what were already hard jobs even harder.  
In many instances, mariners have had to stay at sea far longer than usual.  Crew changes became exceedingly complicated and, in too many cases, even impossible.  And of course, even as you were restricted from shore leave after long voyages, crew members risked exposure to COVID in every new port visited.
MARAD is deeply concerned by studies warning that the stress of being a mariner is taking a stark toll on those who go to sea.  MARAD supported and facilitated a 2021 University of Washington study that found that approximately one-fifth of mariners were at risk for major depressive disorder. 
And almost 23% were found to be at risk for generalized anxiety disorder—a number notably higher than among employees in other industries.  Studies in other countries have yielded similar concerns.
These findings are startling and are surely worsening already serious crew shortages.  MARAD is now working with stakeholders to raise awareness of this issue and to promote ways in which mariners can seek assistance.  
Together with our partner agencies, we have compiled information on resources available at no cost to mariners, such as help lines, chaplain and counseling services available during port calls, and other resources to help with a range of mariner needs, and to overcome the stigma that is associated with seeking mental health care.  
These findings are a call to action to prioritize the well-being of the mariners without whom nothing moves at sea.  
I thank MMP for your ongoing partnership with MARAD to improve mariner health and welfare. 
 Let me also raise another urgent call to action:  We must work together to prevent bullying, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the maritime industry.  Quoting Secretary Buttigieg, “There is no safe harbor for sexual assault or sexual harassment in the maritime industry.”  
At the Maritime Administration, we believe that every mariner has the right to expect that every workplace will be one where essential values of mutual respect and dignity are firmly upheld and where all workers have an equal chance to excel on the basis of their competency and professionalism.  
I know that MMP shares this commitment and I appreciate the extensive focus that your convention is placing on the urgent need to take concrete steps to combat sexual assault and harassment in the maritime industry.
As you know, late last year, we paused Sea Year training at the Merchant Marine Academy.  We did this so we could strengthen both the measures we require of the vessel operators carrying cadets and our own institutional policies, procedures, and training instructions to improve safety and support a culture of respect.
As Secretary Buttigieg has said, sexual assault and harassment have been open secrets in the maritime industry for far too long.  And to combat them, it’s not enough to say the right things…to say we have zero tolerance.  It’s not enough to say we take all allegations seriously. 
We must name the problems we seek to eliminate and then fully implement policies and procedures to prevent harassment and assault from happening.  We must also remove the barriers that have too often stood in the way of reporting when harassment and assaults have occurred.

 I know from my personal experience in the Navy that taking on these challenges requires persistent and dedicated focus to achieve full on cultural change, and that takes time, and unswerving, resolute effort – across all levels of the organization.  Within MARAD, we have taken up this challenge. 
 In response to a request from Congress for a public plan to improve safety, MARAD developed a program called “Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture,” or EMBARC.  
This program enumerates policies intended to help prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment, to support survivors, and to support a culture of accountability—and carriers must adopt these policies before cadets can embark on their vessels.  
Critically, we intend these policies not only to strengthen cadet safety, but to be the first steps in what must be an ongoing effort to strengthen safety for every mariner.  That is why we have required these practices to be implemented in vessels’ Safety Management System: to address this as a safety measure for every mariner aboard a vessel.
MMP—and all mariner labor—worked closely with MARAD on the development of these standards and I thank you for your leadership.  I also know that many of the requirements of EMBARC fall squarely on the shoulders of MMP members.  And I know—as I said earlier—that ships’ officers already have a pressing burden of duties.  
But this is critical—and, ultimately, shipboard climate and policy are set and maintained by masters.  
 Command is a lonely place, as I too have experienced.  The buck stops with you, when you look over your shoulder, no one is there.  You have the burden, the responsibility, the trust, the honor to lead your crew, and to make the decisions to keep them and your vessel safe, and on mission.  Those decisions do not come lightly – I understand that.  
And now, as the Maritime Administrator, I am fully committed to ensuring the success of the EMBARC program.
And we certainly have more to do , the EMBARC program itself includes a commitment to continuous review and improvement—and we are working to fulfill that commitment.
A few weeks ago, we convened the first quarterly meeting of EMBARC stakeholders.  I regret I was unable to attend, but I know that the meeting was very productive and I appreciate the thoughtful comments that were offered to help us (and to me personally) continue to improve EMBARC before, during and after the event.  
I also appreciate the comments that have been submitted in response to the publication of EMBARC in the Federal Register.  Please know that all comments are being carefully reviewed and we will work to ensure that EMBARC reflects lessons learned and best practices.  
Our goal is to ensure the program truly improves safety and that its requirements are workable and value added in the unique environment at sea.  Your suggestions for improvements are always—always—welcome.
Ten companies have now enrolled in EMBARC.  I urge every U.S.-flagged carrier to enroll as quickly as possible. 
Let me also explain that EMBARC was just one component of the many changes we have made to help combat sexual assault and sexual harassment.  
At the Merchant Marine Academy itself, we have also instituted several new policies and procedures to strengthen the support we provide to cadets while they are at sea.  For example, we expanded our amnesty policy for misconduct, such as drinking, by survivors, bystander interveners, and witnesses at the time of an assault or harassing incident.   
We also issued satellite phones that cadets can use to contact their support networks whenever they want to talk—including not only faculty, staff, and mentors at the Academy, but even their family and friends.
I know full well that we have miles to go, but we are now, and will continue to be, engaged in continuous review to identify areas where policies fall short and improve them.  As a first step, we have engaged an expert in sexual assault and harassment prevention and policy development to conduct our first review of our revised Sea Year guide and other Academy policies—as well as EMBARC—and her suggestions are helping to guide our efforts to revise these policies.
That said, to support a meaningful effort to help combat sexual assault and harassment, everyone must make a deliberate commitment—including a commitment of resources—to build trust.  
All of you here today have critical roles to play in advancing this effort—and I thank you for the work you have done and will do. The wellbeing of our mariners, and the recruitment and retention of our mariner workforce, require nothing less.
I also thank our Federal partners for their unwavering support of this effort.  
I thank Coast Guard Rear Admirals John Mauger and Wayne Arguin for their leadership and their partnership—and for all that they are doing to strengthen safety in the merchant marine and to lead change at the IMO.  
I also thank General Jacqueline Van Ovost, the Commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, as well as Admiral Michael Wettlaufer, the head of the Military Sealift Command, for going above and beyond to support our midshipmen and to provide sea time while commercial carriers work to enroll in EMBARC.

As I close, let me again say thank you to Captain Marcus and to the MMP for the opportunity to join you!  
As the Maritime Administrator, my door is always open for your recommendations about how we can advance safety for all mariners, strengthen our U.S. merchant marine, and ensure that we always have the sealift our military needs to deliver essential supplies to any shore in the world.  
As mariners, you know the challenges—and the opportunities—better than anyone and the mission is urgent—so please reach out whenever I can be of assistance.  
Thank you again for your service and support!