The National Review's El Faro Stupidity
" The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience. " - Ernest Hemingway
The recent National Review article by Eftychis John Gregos-Mourginakis and Joshua Jacobs, "Bad Regulations Can Kill: El Faro’s Sinking Is a Tragic Example," is a regrettable rant by two neophytes with little relevant business experience. While the nation mourns the loss of the El Faro and her crew, the young commentators blame it all on the Jones Act.
pic: By Tony Munoz
Gregos-Mourginakis just graduated from college in 2011, and his LinkedIn profile shows he has 154 connections. His profile also claims he was president and CEO of Ivory Elephant Consulting (2011) and a partner at Delamar Group, an online networking service. Now he boasts of being a director at Day & Partners, which is a financial startup in West Palm Beach.
The article’s co-author, Joshua Jacobs, is still in school and will graduate from Villanova Law in 2017. He spent the summer of 2015 as an associate at Rogers Castor. His LinkedIn group has 158 followers and his braggadocious resume boasts of being a founding partner of this, the president of that, a director of communications of whatever and an analyst of naught.
The neophyte commentators make a weak attempt to console the families of the victims by blaming a U.S. law, TOTE Maritime and the American Bureau of Shipping of being complicit in the deadly accident. They then jokingly equate the Jones Act with African ivory smugglers and say it is riddled with "petty regulations" that strangle domestic ship construction.
Their final stab at the Jones Act offers that it harms the United States and should be killed and the legislative repeal should be called the "El Faro Act."
The Arrogance of Ignorance
Jones Act shipowners have poured tens of billions of dollars into building new vessels over the past decade. There are about 45,000 U.S.-flagged vessels working domestic waters, and each year about 2,000 of the ships are replaced by next-generation vessels. The U.S. owners build these vessels with their own money because there are no federal subsidies like there are in foreign countries – countries that would love to send their maritime fleets to sail along our coastlines and inland waterways.
Western European and American seafarers no longer dominate the high seas. Today, the majority of the world’s estimated 500,000 mariners are Filipino, Polish, Romanian and Indian. Many are from Third World countries and work under intolerable conditions for callous owners operating under questionable registries and flag states. Each year about 2,000 of them die while working on a vessel because there is not a more dangerous workplace than the open ocean.
To insinuate that TOTE Maritime was restrained by the Jones Act from providing a safe working environment for its seafarers is just plain ignorant. The U.S. Coast Guard and the American Bureau of Shipping constantly inspect the condition of vessels operating in the domestic trade, and no vessel is allowed to operate if it posed a danger to the environment or its personnel. In addition, work platforms and conditions are overseen by the Department of Labor, OSHA, and the labor unions representing the mariners.
Moreover, U.S.-flagged vessels already operate in the North American/Caribbean Emission Control Area (ECA) which, like other ECAs, has the strictest air pollution standards in the world. U.S seamen are the best-trained mariners in the world, and top maritime companies employ an auditing scheme called the Navigational Skills Assessment Program (NSAP) to ensure the highest standards of seamanship onboard domestic ships.
The U.S. has 96,000 miles of coastline and 22,000 miles of inland commercial waterways. Jones Act companies have in recent years modernized offshore support vessels in the oil patch and spent billions constructing double-hull tankers, articulated tug-barges, double-hulled barges, petroleum product tankers and the world’s most modern fleet of ferries, which shuttle more than 80 million passengers each year. LNG container ships and LNG fuel barges are also being constructed in the U.S. and will be entering domestic service later this year.
Meanwhile, special interests constantly bemoan the huge cost differential between U.S. and foreign shipping. But the differential is due to taxation, employee benefits (which are paid by owners), and better working conditions and higher environmental standards enforced by the government. Why should U.S. mariners lower their standards in order to compete with Third World mariners?
The 2008 Great Recession erased about a trillion dollars in wealth, destroyed eight million jobs and threw tens of thousands of people out of their homes. Millions of Americans remain out of work today, and many more millions are underemployed.
The Importance of the Jones Act
The Jones Act directly and indirectly employs over 500,000 workers and is responsible for $35 billion in GDP, $30 billion in labor compensation and $10 billion in taxes to federal, state and local governments. America is dependent on its domestic waterways for its economic health and survival – not to mention its national security.
As for you young wannabe commentators, let me reiterate what the founding editor of your publication, William F. Buckley Jr., once famously said: “I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said.” But you need to apologize to the families whose loved ones were working at their professions when tragedy struck and to the maritime companies that are investing in the future of domestic commerce and, in the process, building a great nation that is the envy of the world. – MarEx
Tony Munoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org