Monday, December 30, 2013



In America the U.S. Coast Guard is charged with the "superintendence of the merchant Marine" . It's pretty much has been that way since World War II when naval control of shipping was imposed and the Merchant Marine was basically functioning as a naval auxiliary. The "superintendence" (licensing and certification of seamen, investigations and tribunals for at sea breaches in discipline or alleged instances demonstrating professional incompetency, inspection of ships, approval of safety equipment) , all of these fell to the U.S. Coast Guard's basket of tasks at a time when it was very involved in amphibious warfare, convoy escort, port security, and many other aspects of naval augmentation directly involving armed personnel or armed vessels and direct combat. The U.S. Coast Guard had been, in peace time, an armed maritime criminal law enforcement,aids to navigation, and search and rescue organization, By law it was also a naval military service in times of war, or parts of the service could be dispatched to service with the Navy by Presidential order. The role of a regulatory agency was imposed on it as the World War broke out and both the Coast Guard and the Merchant Marine came under more direct control by the Chief of Naval Operations. When the war ended there was no agency to hand off this regulatory responsibility to and so the Coast Guard has continued its superintendence of the American Merchant Marine to this day. As many maritime wags are won't to describe it; this arrangement has resulted in "the most closely regulated Merchant Marine that never existed."  You see the U.S. Coast Guard has had the responsibility of insuring the safety of the U.S. Merchant Marine for decades but it has no responsibility for insuring that there is a Merchant Marine in the first place. Regulating the American Merchant Marine out of existence is not the intention of the Coast Guard but it has never appeared to be a real concern either.

  The U.S. Maritime Administration is the organization charged with insuring that there is a U.S. Merchant Marine. To this end the Maritime Administration operates the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and provides assistance to the several state maritime academies. If the Congress gives them any money the Maritime Administration will administer construction differential and operational differential subsidies to American ship owners but basically neither political party provides any real support to the idea of subsidies. The Republicans hate the concept of subsidies generally and the Democrats don't see the percentage in it, not enough voting American merchant men to vote them into office. The Maritime Administration runs a "mothball fleet" of aging vessels that might be pressed into service if war broke out. The administration also administers a loan guarantee program for the construction of vessels in America that have recognized potential naval utility. Basically the Maritime Administration has administered the incredible shrinking American Merchant Marine right into the dirt. The problem with the ham handed regulatory efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard and the ineffective administration of the Maritime Administration is simply that both agencies have lots of legislative guidance and mandates by a Congress that doesn't know port from starboard or bow from stern. THERE IS NO COMPREHENSIVE AMERICAN NATIONAL MARITIME  POLICY.

  By contrast little Malaysia has an excellent navy, excellent "coast guard", (Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency), and a growing commercial maritime sector. Could it be that Malaysia has achieved a comprehensive and wise national maritime policy because  in 1993 it decided to get the politicians some brain power for the necessary tasks by forming the Maritime Institute of Malaysia.  The Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA) was incorporated in 1993 with a mandate to conduct policy research on the maritime realm of the nation. The Institute was mandated to mobilize national and international expertise in the area of policy analysis, development, implementation, and evaluation in support of the Malaysian Government. The Institute was to undertake research  on Malaysia's maritime domain and provide opportunities for exchanges of ideas on such matters.The Institute is to provide the government with opinions, policy options and recommendations on maritime related issues. To enliven and inform policy discussion the Institute was mandated to publish results of its studies and to sponsor seminars and similar events. 

 Hummm....lets see Malaysia's national maritime policy is formulated after careful study and advice of full time experts focused on arriving at maritime policies that work and this process is institutionalized in a national maritime think tank. American lack of policy comes out of Congressional turf squabbles. We here at AAB / AAIS watch the maritime world of navies, coast guards and merchant marines 24/7, year in and year out and we've been doing it for decades.  We don't claim that Malaysia, or India, or Singapore are perfect in every aspect of maritime activity. But we can absolutely confirm that since 1993 they seem to get better every year and are really quite good today. By contrast U.S. commercial sea power is in the tank, the U.S. Navy is shrinking, the U.S. Coast Guard's equipment inventory is improving nicely thanks to the on going "Deep Water Project", their personnel are increasing in numbers and quality, but the agency continues to do economic harm to the ever shrinking American Merchant Marine. Is it too late to start over on the Malaysian model? Could we back up and arrive at a comprehensive national maritime policy developed by experts and then seek the needed legislation and regulatory processes to support it? 
  Really, if the entire membership of the House and Senate Coast Guard and Merchant Marine related committees were to take off tomorrow to Malaysia to visit the MIMA we'd be the first to defend them against charges of  a pleasure "junket" at tax payer expense. Yes its true that Malaysia is beautiful, warm, has some really nice beaches but that doesn't mean that Congress couldn't learn about maritime policy formation there. We could send them to cold and cloudy England instead but that's not where models of effective maritime policy are being formed today. The British are also experiencing a shrinking Navy, merchant marine and have a decentralized coast guard function. We all learned a great deal from the British model at one time but they aren't the innovators anymore. If we want to relearn innovation, practicality, and sound maritime national policy we need to look for models in the world that actually work. Le's send the Congress to Malaysia to study the MIMA, even if the trip is way more pleasant than what those rascals deserve. Let's hope the Malaysian's would let our Congress in, quite a few of them are pretty unsavory. You can follow this link to learn more about MIMA:
B-06-08 Megan Avenue II
12, Jalan Yap Kwan Seng
50450 Kuala Lumpur

Telephone: (603) 2161 2960
Telefax: (603) 2161 4035

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