A MERCHANT MARINE
REQUIRES UPKEEPI am tired of the misrepresentations made by some of your recent letter writers, especially with regard to U.S. merchant mariners.
When they make apples to oranges comparisons, any judgments they draw will be inherently flawed. The assertion that it is unnecessary to maintain a U.S. merchant fleet, independently owned and operated, comes from people who profit
from so-called flag of convenience operations.
Where do the opponents of a U.S.-flag fleet think we can find the men and women needed to crew the Navy's Ready Reserve vessels in time of emergency? It takes many years to train crews, and it must be done on an ongoing basis. This is best accomplished by providing job opportunities in the U.S. merchant marine. Do we really believe the U.S. economy - and the American public - are best served by setting standards for wages, living conditions and safety that are 50 years old? I think not.
Most of the criticism aimed at our merchant mariners comes from people who would not know the bow of a ship from the stern, let alone understand the skills necessary to safely operate a multimillion dollar vessel. The nation would be better served by eliminating the so-called consultants and replacing them with people who have America's interests at heart. We don't need any more people whose only interest is to divert their profits to accounts in the Cayman Islands.
The Desert Storm experience radically changed the policies of the Maritime Administration, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense with regard to our Ready Reserve ships: Instead of leaving these vessels in deep lay-up, they will be kept in a reserve operating status. By employing skeleton crews aboard these ships, the taxpayers will save millions of dollars in start-up costs. A ship is not a lawn mower: If you don't regularly maintain it, it will cost that much more to activate it when an emergency arises. It only makes sense to keep skeleton crews to care for these ships.
This still leaves the country without the additional trained crews to operate these reserve ships in a fully operational status. The only sensible way to fill that need is to support a privately owned commercial fleet. Having had the opportunity to activate a number of ships from deep lay-up, the need for currently trained officers and crew is apparent to me and thousands of others in the maritime industry.
Those who say we are best served by Third World crews earning Third World wages and living in conditions I would not subject my dog to also believe the labor of men and women who sacrifice their lives and family is worthless. Face it, the 1980s are over. It is time to recognize that we must try to bring the underprivileged up to our level, not drag Americans down to levels that are unacceptable in this country.
American-controlled foreign flag shipping is a misnomer. It would be better referred to as American-owned flag of convenience shipping - at the cost of lower living standards, lower safety standards and the loss of just plain common sense.
San Pedro, Calif.
SHIP INDUSTRY LEANS
As a small-volume exporter of lumber, I must take issue with Don Becker's ''Publisher's Notebook" column of Aug. 18 (Page 12A).
The figures do not lie: American-flag ships have decreased in numbers as the subsidies have continued for many years. The system of subsidies has created a group of beggars, solely dependent on Congress.
They don't compete for cargo. They depend on "foreign aid," military and Jones Act cargo. Congress has created a class of companies with an acute dependency on government, just like "welfare mothers."
The greatest American flag operation in the past 35 years was Sea-Land under Mr. McLean. They competed for cargo and helped generate cargo that was not hauled before.
They worked with me to containerize lumber, first in rag-tops, then in
closed containers, and they worked with Italians to ship marble back in the initial 35-foot rag-tops. They were true businessmen, going after the business available, without subsidies.
The trend in "foreign aid" and military cargo is down. The American flag operators had better forget subsidies and compete for the business that is available. Government largess will stop with congressional term limits; you can bank on that.
American flag operators had better ask Mr. McLean or Mr. Maersk Moller how to compete for cargo, and then get to work.
They will have a large savings in lawyer and lobbyist fees, and they will find plenty of cargo among the America's small shippers, who now use Maersk, Croatia, Cho Yang, Mediterranean Shipping, Atlanticargo, Wilhelmsen and others.
Vernon Townsend Jr.
Vernon Townsend Lumber Co.