Short Sea Shipping Shake-Up

2019-06-24T14:41:29+00:00 June 24, 2019|
(Credit: Tom Ward/NOAA Teacher at Sea Program)

(Credit: Tom Ward/NOAA Teacher at Sea Program)

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held a hearing titled, “Short Sea Shipping: Rebuilding America’s Maritime Industry.”

Why It Matters

Maritime transportation accounts for 20.6 percent of the gross domestic product in the U.S. ocean and Great Lakes economy; however, America’s transportation system — on both land and water — is struggling to keep up with the amount of commercial freight being transported domestically. To increase shipping capacity and alleviate pressure on road and rail infrastructure, there is a need for innovative solutions to enhance the efficiency of domestic transportation. Short sea shipping, a mode of moving commercial freight between domestic ports through inland and coastal waterways, holds the potential to revitalize a domestic waterway economy.

Key Points

Chairman Sean Maloney (NY-18) pointed out that European countries have placed more emphasis on short sea shipping, moving over 40 percent of all European freight on ocean and inland rivers, while America has instead focused on land transportation for domestic freight. As the nation’s road and rail systems become increasingly crowded, subcommittee members and witnesses agreed that short sea shipping will be a necessary alternative to trains and trucks for moving freight in the future.

Mr. Jon Nass (Chief Executive Officer, Maine Port Authority) stated that establishing a maritime route, in parallel with the congested I-95 highway system, would connect northern New England to ports to the south and revitalize several coastal communities by making them part of a thriving coastal freight transportation network. Short sea shipping not only reduces volume of traffic on the road but is a more environmentally friendly alternative to trucks and trains. Mr. James Weakley (President, Lake Carriers’ Association) stated that U.S. flag “laker,” ships specifically designed for the Great Lakes trade can move 2000 pounds of cargo 607 miles using only one gallon of fuel, compared to trucks and trains that would move the same amount of cargo using about 59 and 202 miles per gallon, respectively.

Addressing some barriers to short sea shipping, Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, USN, Ret. (Administrator, Maritime Administration) stated that the main challenge is awareness of and education about this alternative method of transportation. Additional barriers include adapting domestic ports to handle large short sea shipping vessels, the reluctance of freight shippers to move to new modes transportation, and a shortage of mariners to complete the workforce.


“An invigorated short sea shipping industry would not only increase the state of good repair of the U.S. roads and bridges by reducing maintenance costs from wear and tear and improve air quality and emissions but would help to address the critical shortage in our merchant mariner workforce. Administrator Buzby and other government officials have repeatedly stated that we have 1,800 fewer mariners than what is needed to address America’s sealift needs. That gap would quickly begin to close if we fully utilized America’s marine highways and began shipping cargo on coastwise ships.”— Chairman Sean Maloney (NY-18)

“Increased use of waterborne transportation of commercial freight between domestic U.S. ports – short sea shipping – could expand the limited, and increasingly crowded, freight transportation capacity of the nation’s rail and road system without large additional public investment.”— Ranking Member Bob Gibbs (OH-7)

Next Steps

Chairman Maloney and Ranking Member Gibbs indicated they would like to see further development of short sea shipping in both the Maritime Administration’s comprehensive national maritime strategy and the America’s Marine Highway Program, a program intended to incorporate the nation’s navigable waterways into the overall U.S. transportation system.

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership     

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