FMC COMMISSIONER CRITICIZES US FOR IGNORING COMMERCIAL SIDE OF FLEET

FMC COMMISSIONER CRITICIZES US FOR IGNORING COMMERCIAL SIDE OF FLEET

Too little attention has been given to the commercial benefits of the U.S.-flag fleet in this year's debate over maritime subsidies and the future of U.S. shipping, said Federal Maritime Commissioner Ming Hsu.

There has been too much focus on the defense and national security justification for U.S.-controlled vessels and too little consideration given to the commercial need for the fleet, said Ms. Hsu, one of three commissioners at the FMC. There are two vacancies on the five-member commission. The agency regulates the ocean transport aspect of U.S. international commerce.The commercial benefits of U.S. shipping generally are considered to be quality of service and scheduling. Without a national fleet, U.S. importers and exporters would be subjected to higher freight rates and discrimination by foreign-flag operators, industry proponents said.

Ms. Hsu said the policy debate on subsidies, which are sought by ocean carriers to compensate for higher U.S. seafarers' wages, has deteriorated into an argument over how much of a role U.S.-flag liner vessels played in delivering cargo during the Persian Gulf war.

The attention given to that issue is disproportionate, and "national security isn't the issue it used to be," she said. "If we cannot agree on a commercial justification, let's move on to health care."

Ms. Hsu's comments were made in an address given last week in San Diego at the annual convention of the Propeller Club of the United States.

The commissioner's remarks differed somewhat from a statement issued by a recently formed carrier and labor coalition following the meeting Tuesday between President Clinton and leading congressional proponents of subsidy legislation.

The group, which calls itself the United States Maritime Coalition, praised the president for understanding "the vital role played by (the U.S.) fleet in our national defense," in addition to its contribution to U.S. competitiveness and employment.