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Transcript: Remarks at 2022 WISTA USA AGM and Conference

Friday, April 29, 2022

REMARKS AS DELIVERED
FOR ACTING ADMINISTRATOR LUCINDA LESSLEY
WISTA Opening Remarks
29 April 2022 (Pre-Recorded)

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today.  On behalf of the Biden-Harris Administration, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, I am very honored to be here.  I am sorry I could not join you in person but am very glad to join virtually.

The Maritime Administration’s mission is to foster, promote, and develop the maritime industry of the United States to meet the nation’s economic and security needs. 

We support our nation’s mariners, we shepherd federal investments in our ports and waterways, we own and operate sealift vessels essential to U.S. national security, and finally, we train the next generation of mariners. And we’ve been busy!

CURRENT STATE OF THE US MARITIME INDUSTRY

Let me begin by sharing some great news: Thanks to the historic $1.2 trillion investment made available by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are poised to make significant progress in modernizing the maritime industry by funding projects that will upgrade infrastructure and increase equitable access to jobs while easing the strain on the existing workforce. 

For the maritime industry, the BIL invests more than $17 billion in port infrastructure and waterways to address needed repairs and maintenance backlogs, reduce congestion, strengthen our supply chains, and remove bottlenecks to expedite commerce. 

Of that money, the Maritime Administration is administering $2.25 billion to be awarded over the next five years through our Port Infrastructure Development Program. 

On February 23, 2022, Secretary Buttigieg announced the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the first round of funding for PIDP funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  

This first round of BIL funding totals $450 million—an investment that is almost double the amount provided last year and is the largest single investment in the program ever.  

And on top of that, the appropriations measure just passed by Congress—the first enacted under President Biden—provides an additional $234 million dollars for the PIDP program, bringing the total amount of funding available this year to more than $680 million.  This far exceeds any previous investment in the PIDP program.

This funding will help us improve the movement of goods to, through, and around ports—and it will help us cut emissions near ports by boosting electrification and investing in other low-carbon technologies to reduce environmental impacts on neighboring communities.

In keeping with the priorities of the Biden-Harris Administration, applicants must also provide a plan regarding how proposed projects will address environmental justice impacts and advance equity in the workforce.

Applications are due by midnight on May 16 and I encourage all U.S. ports to apply!

In addition to port infrastructure improvements, we’re also dedicating new resources to benefit domestic shipping through the America’s Marine Highway Program, which provides funding to Marine Highways, including navigable rivers, near-coastal waterways and our Great Lakes, among others. 

In March of this year, the Department of Transportation announced the availability of nearly $25 million in grant funding for the Marine Highway Program. This funding simply wouldn’t have been possible without President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

More recently, DOT announced that as a result of additional money appropriated to the America’s Marine Highway Program (AMHP) in the FY 2022 appropriations measure, the total amount of funding available for the program has increased to $39.8 million. 

MARAD also extended the deadline for applicants to apply for funding to June 17, 2022.

There is a Marine Highway project very near the venue where you are meeting.  The Lake Michigan M-90 Marine Highway Shortcut between Michigan and Wisconsin designation will support an existing ferry service that transports both freight vehicles and passengers across Lake Michigan between Ludington, Michigan, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The ferry service is anchored by the SS Badger, a documented U.S. vessel and a historic car ferry owned. 

All designated projects and routes are eligible to apply for funding under the Marine Highway Program and I encourage every eligible entity to do so! 

THE MARITIME ADMINISTRATION’S COMMITMENT 

Infrastructure is undeniably essential to the growth of our industry and the resilience of our supply chain, but the maritime industry’s most valuable asset is its people. That’s why the Maritime Administration is committed to bolstering recruitment. 

At MARAD, we are making radical changes to our workforce development initiatives and expanding our historic mission of supporting blue water mariners to include the much broader spectrum of all maritime-related “ashore and afloat” careers.  

Last year, we recognized the first-ever centers of excellence consisting of community and technical colleges and maritime training centers, and our planned future engagements with the K-12 community will help us build the next generation of a diverse and inclusive maritime workforce. 

Another area on which we are working is mariner mental health. 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 nearly 21% of mariners were at risk for major depressive disorder. Almost 23% were found to be at risk for generalized anxiety disorder—a number notably higher than among employees in other industries.

And studies in other countries have yielded similar concerns.

These findings are startling, especially with international studies that show increasing crewing shortages, and 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 a comprehensive list of resources available to mariners at no cost, such as help lines, chaplain and counseling services available during port calls, and other resources to help overcome the stigma that is associated with mental health.  

These findings are also a call to action to prioritize the well-being of the mariners without whom nothing moves at sea.  

Finally, there is a most urgent call to action I want to discuss—and that is our commitment to combatting sexual assault and sexual harassment in the maritime industry. 

At the Maritime Administration, we believe every maritime industry workplace should be one where the 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.  

This is an urgent moral issue.  It is also one tied closely to America’s economic and national security interests.

An industry that drives away top talent because of unchecked harassment and sexual assault cannot maintain the workforce it needs to thrive. 

OUR ACTION 

As some of you may know, late last year, at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy we operate, we paused the Sea Year training aboard commercial vessels that midshipmen undertake to earn the sea time they need to qualify for third-mate and third-engineer licenses.

In response to a request from Congress for a public plan to improve safety, we 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.  

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 requested these practices to be implemented in vessels’ Safety Management System: to address this as a safety measure for every mariner aboard a vessel.

Six companies have now enrolled in EMBARC and I thank you for your leadership.  I urge every U.S.-flagged carrier to enroll as quickly as possible. 

OUR FUTURE

To continue to make progress, we need leaders in the mariner workforce who challenge the status quo and voice their observations and experiences, both positive and negative, so we have the complete picture of the state of the industry.

That said, what we fundamentally need is culture change across the industry. Everyone in the industry—everyone in this virtual room—must have a seat at the table in the conversations surrounding strengthening shipboard safety. And everyone must also take a stand.  Preventing and eliminating the threat of sexual assault and harassment will not occur unless there is a deliberate commitment—including a commitment of resources—to build trust. 

We must seize this opportunity, starting today and continuing every single day, to work to support prevention, eliminate barriers to reporting, and support accountability.

With the help of industry stakeholders such as yourselves, we can create change and we can transform the maritime industry.  I thank you for all that you have done and all that you will do to open the doors of opportunity in the maritime industry—and to make sure they stay open to everyone who shares the passion for the sea. 

Thank you for your support, and thank you for your time, and I wish you a wonderful conference!