Sunday, October 24, 2010

flip side of the Jones Act coin

Last night I bunkered up a foreign-flagged ship that was owned by an American company.
Nothing too exciting there, I guess. Lots of American companies own foreign flagged ships. This company, however, used to own an asphalt carrier that was engaged in the Jones Act trade. While the ship itself was a famous disaster, being a retrofit made to operate in a highly specialized carrier trade, she was crewed and built by Americans... and she went to scrap a few years ago after reaching her OPA90 phase-out date. The ship I fueled yesterday was still trading actively.

After figuring out that I was looking at a ship managed by the same entity that used to employ some of my former shipmates (the scrapped ship was once part of my union, when I belonged to a union), I started taking a good look at the ship itself. The ship was showing wear, but was built like a tank. The layout was simple, and it certainly looked a lot more efficient than did her American-built counterpart.
I've had to wonder since then why it is that we can't have ships built to something approaching the international standard. We pay 3-4 times as much for an American-built ship, and it takes about 9 months longer to build. From what I can discern, we do tend to overbuild, which I am happy to believe, if it's true, but there has to be a trade-off.

From what I can see down the road from here, where the Aker Philadelphia tankers are being built right now, the ships look kind of flimsy. These are Korean-designed kits, and I've only seen product carriers built this lightly here in the US. I've heard stories of Mearsk-owned tankers coming back from sea trials with crumpled bows (actually I've seen photos), and from what I see from these Aker ships, I've got to say that I can see how that could happen, but while I appreciate that labor costs are much more steep here in the US, I can't help but wonder if it's time to take a page from the airline industry and open up the US trades to foreign-built ships.

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