WASHINGTON -- While there is anecdotal evidence that says there are far fewer qualified mariners than the maritime industry needs, the Maritime Administration is preparing a survey to collect hard data on the problem, Administrator Sean Connaughton told the House Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime on Wednesday.
Connaughton said while there is a greater demand for waterborne transportation and more capital flowing into ship construction, the industry is losing licensed mariners to retirement, and is having difficulty attracting younger people to replace them.
"There is a shortage of mariners around the world," Connaughton said. Within the U.S. industry, the training of licensed mariners at the Merchant Marine Academy and state maritime schools has concentrated on filling the ranks aboard deepwater vessels. As a result there is a shortage of personnel for offshore and river transportation.
At the same time, Connaughton said that the Department of Labor is finding a shortage of skilled workers for U.S. shipyards.
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said that the U.S. has not publicized career opportunities in the maritime industry to high school students.
"Young people don't have a clue about jobs in the maritime industry," Cummings said. Marad is working with a maritime high school in Cummings' home district in Baltimore to upgrade the curriculum. He urged Marad to create model programs for other schools.
Connaughton and other witnesses also said that the fleet of Marad-owned school ships is aging, and there is not enough money in the budget to upgrade them. Marad provides the vessels for the six state maritime academies. They are necessary to give cadets enough time at sea to qualify for their licenses.
Other witnesses complained that security, particularly the Transportation Worker Identification Credential, is thinning the ranks of qualified mariners. They said security also prohibits some mariners from taking shore leave at U.S. ports.