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Leading shipping website blasts Biden for appointing U.S. Maritime chief with ‘zero’ experience

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A leading shipping industry website is ripping President Joe Biden for appointing an inexperienced administrator to head up the U.S. Maritime Administration, a division within the Department of Transportation, during one of the county’s worst shipping bottlenecks in decades.

The site, gCaptain, noted in a column by Captain John Konrad that other agencies are headed up by directors and administrators with experience in the industry, but Biden’s choice to nominate retired Navy RAdm. Ann Phillips to the agency was perplexing, given she has no experience in the realm of container shipping.

“The FAA is headed by a pilot, NASA is headed by an astronaut, the US Marine Corps is headed by a Marine but for the fourth time in a row, and during the worst shipping crisis of the century, the US Department of Transportation, has appointed someone to the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) who is not a captain and has no commercial shipping experience,” Konrad wrote.

Phillips would replace Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, who resigned from his post following the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol Building.

“Phillips is a highly decorated Navy leader with a long list of accomplishments and is highly respected by everyone gCaptain has interviewed. She was head of the Navy’s Climate Change Task Force and is a highly sought after consultant on climate security issues. She holds an MBA. She was chairman of a local government Sea Level Rise Preparedness and Resilience project. She once captained a Navy warship,” Konrad continued.

“The appointment looks great on paper except for one kinda big problem. This is not a warship position. It’s a commercial shipping appointment and she has zero experience aboard any commercial ships. She does not even have experience leading navy military sealift ship,” he added.

Konrad said that traditionally, the maritime administrator is a ship captain but that tradition was disrupted during President Barack Obama’s tenure when he left the position vacant for many years before filling it with  David Matsuda, a congressional staffer who was unpopular and pushed out of the position in 2013. Matsuda was followed by a “relatively low-ranking” submarine captain, Cmdr. Chip Jaenichen.

Appointed by former President Donald Trump, “Buzby, while not a commercial mariner or ship owner, was a graduate of the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), ran sealift operations for the Navy, was on the board of directors of Carnival Cruise Line, and spent his first year traveling around the country, meeting with ship captains and commercial maritime stake holders,” Konrad noted.

“He reached out and listened to stakeholder needs. Buzby became highly popular within the industry on his promise to publish a new US Maritime Strategy to resuscitate the US Merchant Marine. He did write that strategy but it was lost in the malaize [sic] of government bureaucracy,” he added.

Konrad said that Buzby also managed to accomplish the “seemingly impossible task” of rescuing Aker’s Philadelphia Shipyard, which was on the verge of closure before he authorized the purchase of four new state maritime academy training ships that are valued at around $1.5 billion. The construction of those ships supports 1,000 shipyard jobs in the city.

Also, Buzby managed to convince U.S. Transportation Command to conduct a “turbo-activation” of the Navy’s Ready Reserve Fleet “to prove the abysmal state of our nation’s readiness to move materials for war,” Konrad wrote.

And though Buzby also had his failures and many of his initiatives were being pushed back to a second Trump term that did not materialize, Konrad noted he was highly thought of by the industry, while adding that Trump surrounded himself with shipping industry experts and others who are familiar with it, including Elaine Chao, who served as his Transporation Secretary and whose family owns a successful shipping business (and her husband is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who was majority leader during Trump’s term).

“Buzby’s final act as administrator was endorsing a licensed ship captain as his replacement but [current Transportation Secretary Pete] Buttigieg never called that nominee for an interview. Biden appointed no ship owners to his cabinet, he closed the White House maritime desk and delayed his MARAD appointment for 278 days. The Biden administration [seemingly] cares so little about shipping they have even forgot to recall critical Republican appointed delegates to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London,” Konrad wrote.

Konrad went on to quote a senior White House “insider” who said: “I respect the hell out of Buzby. He did a lot of great work but it’s already been lost or forgotten. Some of his work is classified, some were boxed up by Biden [aides], but what really killed his legacy was a lack of continuity at MARAD.”

The industry expert went on to lament Biden’s plan to fix the bottlenecks but said it was “doomed to failure” because neither the president nor his staff contacted any ship captains for advice.

“To the untrained eye the 139 ships waiting to leave Los Angeles may look like a port crisis that can be solved by a US Port Envoy, it is not. It is a SHIPPING crisis. Numerous ports around the United States including Oakland and San Diego, have extra capacity, what we don’t have is anyone with recent SHIPPING experience at MARAD directing the SHIPS to empty ports,” Konrad wrote.

To that point, Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis offered ports in his state to help ease the crisis, noting he would slice through “red tape” to make it happen.

Jon Dougherty

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