Each year the maritime industry honors someone in the maritime business, labor or Congress who has made significant contributions to the industry. The individual is presented the Aotos Award, the Admiral of the Ocean Award.
Each year the recipient is usually someone truly outstanding. The foremost example of that was in 1984 when Malcom McLean received the award. Mr. McLean was and is a leader in the industry. In 1956 he had the courage to send a small converted tanker out of Port Newark with 58 truck trailers down to Houston, Tex. That was the beginning of the ocean borne containership industry. From that humble beginning, he built up Sea-Land Service Inc. into the largest containership company in the world.Later, after he sold Sea-Land, he purchased United States Lines, another U.S.-flag containership operator. Again demonstrating the same courage and leadership, he introduced twelve 4,000 plus 20-foot equivalent container units, the largest in the world, and began an around-the-world service. Year round the ships travel into the sun and circle the globe every 85 or so days.
This latest endeavor by Mr. McLean has not been so successful, to date, for a number of reasons; including a plethora of ships in the world and depressed economic conditions. But again, the leadership and courage that Mr. McLean has exhibited is without question.
This year, on Sept. 26, Rep. Walter B. Jones, D-N.C., chairman of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, was presented the award in the Grand Ballroom of the New York Hilton.
Among other accomplishments, Rep. Jones received the Aotos Award for his efforts in helping Congress pass the Shipping Act of 1984, an historic deregulation of the industry, and his tireless efforts to try to get the maritime industry and Congress to pass promotional legislation this year.
Promotion is a euphemism describing legislation that primarily provides subsidies for U.S.-flag shipping companies. The subsidies are usually of one or two sorts: (1) to help make up the differential between the high salaries paid U.S. crew and the salaries paid by foreign-flag companies to non-U.S. crew; (2) a differential between the high cost and long lead time needed to obtain ships form U.S. shipyards against purchasing those ships abroad.
Promotional legislation is going nowhere this year, although the industry and Congress have been struggling with putting a legislative package together for two years.
In accepting his award, Rep. Jones told a story that, I believe, has broad application in explaining why the U.S. maritime industry has not been successful in passing a promotional bill.
There were these two nuns, he said, dressed in their habits driving down a country road in their Buick Skylark. The car began belching and then suddenly stopped. The gas gauge registered empty. Looking heaven-wardly, they got out of the car and pushed it off the road. They remembered that they had passed a gas station about a half a mile back, said Rep. Jones, so they began walking toward it.
The station attendant was very kind but he explained that he could not drive the truck and bring them gas because he was the only one at the station. The only container he had, in which they could carry back some gas, was an old bed pan. They said that would be fine and after hefilled it up with no lead petro, they carefully carried it back to the Buick.
As they were pouring the gas into their car, an older gentleman pulled up in his Plymouth to see if he could be of help.
"Sisters," he said solicitously, "I admire your faith, but I don't think your car will run on that."
The leaders of the U.S.-flag maritime industry, and their public affairs minions, handled the promotional legislation with as much distain and disagreement as if it were a bed pan filled with the usual bile. One cannot fault Rep. Jones or other Congressional leaders, that a bill was not passed. They did their best. Also, shipboard labor, worked overtime to make concessions on reducing crew sizes in an attempt to put together a legislative package.
It was the carriers fault alone that a bill was not passed this year. This is nothing new. The containership carriers, in particular, are renown in all of transportation for being fiercely competitive. The shippers love it and have played it for all it's been worth for years. The Shipping Act of 1984 is a prime example of that.
By banding together, the shippers easily scuttled the carriers, who continued to fight among themselves. The result: the act is now considered to be The Shippers Act of 1984. That bill, which was suppose to help a depressed U.S.-flag industry has swiped away millions in profits from the containership operators.
Enough of this internecine warfare. The industry is down to nine U.S.-flag containership operators, two or three of which are making money today. The operators should rise above their own solipsistic interests and think of what's best for the nation.
After Rep. Jones received his award, I spotted Mr. McLean dancing with his very gracious and beautiful wife. As they danced in stately fashion, evidence of their southern roots, he took great care that none of the more rambunctious dancers harmed his wife. His love and regard for his lifelong companion was obvious.
That is the same kind of care and consideration that the U.S.-flag carriers owe to the industry as a whole. Yes they should be competitive. But there comes a point when good sense tells you that what's best for all is best for each.