The U.S. commercial maritime industry appears to be in a secular decline. Less than 2% of the nation’s waterborne exports and imports are transported on ships flying the U.S. flag. The last time that 10% or more of U.S. trade was carried by American-made and manned vessels was 1960.
As the role of the U.S. merchant fleet in global trade has receded, so have the ranks of merchant seamen and the fortunes of commercial shipbuilders. The head of the Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration told Congress last year that “U.S. commercial shipbuilding of large merchant-type ships has been locked into a downward spiral of decreasing demand and an increased divergence between domestic and foreign shipbuilding productivity and pricing.”
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