Home » Budget Industry » Zukunft Discusses Jones Act, Future Arctic Operations in Farewell Speech

Zukunft Discusses Jones Act, Future Arctic Operations in Farewell Speech

President Donald Trump and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly look on as Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft speaks during the 136th Coast Guard Academy commencement exercise in New London, Conn., May 17, 2017.
US Coast Guard photo.

Repealing the law that requires coastal cargo shipping to be done in American vessels with American crews “could have severe repercussions” for the United States such as leading to the closure of federal and state maritime academies and imperiling the long-term health of the nation’s shipbuilding industry, the Coast Guard commandant warned Tuesday.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in answering an audience question on the future of the Jones Act – the law covering domestic cargo – that “this is much more strategic” than lowering transportation costs.

The Jones Act is a a century-old federal law that restricts the movement of cargo between U.S. ports to vessels that are American-built, -crewed, -owned and -operated. While the act protects American companies and ensures sufficient work for American mariners, opponents say it raises costs and is not practical for the modern economy. During the disaster relief effort after Hurricane Maria, supplies were slow to reach Puerto Rican residents in part due to the Jones Act’s requirement that only American ships deliver those goods. The Trump Administration ultimately waived the Jones Act to allow for a faster response.

Since the Trump Administration took over, there has been increased Capitol Hill attention on whether the law remains viable. Proponents for change cite lowered costs as a major plus, while defenders point to the nation already being 2,500 mariners short of its security needs if a prolonged conflict were to occur.

In addition to the domestic impact, Zukunft pointed to China as directly benefitting from repealing the law, which would allow it to dominate American domestic shipping. Because of the size of China’s shipping industry, it could take over domestic coastal trade by having more vessels available and operating at lower costs. Zukunft added this market dominance could also extend to the $4-triliion inland waterways commerce.

Zukunft, who opened a half-day forum on security challenges in the Arctic, said in his remarks that “vast riches exist there” in an area the size of Texas on the extended American continental shelf – which China views as maritime commons. Beijing holds that position because the United States has not signed the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention that sets ground rules to determine the boundaries of a country’s continental shelf.

“We need to sign up to the ground rules” of the treaty to better assert the United States’ interest, he said, for a number of security and economic reasons.

Zukunft said the Arctic is believed to contained 13 percent of the world’s untapped oil deposits, one-third of its natural gas and a host of rare minerals on the seabed that could be used in the relatively near future.

For example, although petroleum “is still a very volatile market” with prices fluctuating greatly, “quite clearly this is a strategic reserve” that can be developed.

In Beijing’s view, the “nine-dash line,” which it uses to exert its territorial claims in the South China Sea, extends into these northern waters as well.

“We traditionally operate there,” is Beijing’s philosophy, Zukunft said. China is expanding its explorations for natural gas, oil, rare earth minerals and fisheries in this sector of the Arctic; working more closely with Russia on economic development; and intensifying its scientific research on oceanic and atmospheric conditions there.

At the same time as China extends its territorial claims and builds an icebreaker to show its presence, “Russia claims all the way up to the North Pole,” the admiral said.

Zukunft said “the Russians are re-investing in distant search and rescue” installations along the Northern Polar Route while also readying two corvettes for duty there as it militarizes some islands for their operation. “We are seeing duality” in Moscow’s approach to its future in the high latitudes. Russia controls the largest swath of territory among the eight Arctic nations.

Like Canada, which claims the Northwest Passage as lying in its territorial waters, Russia claims the Northern Polar Route as its own. Among its stepped-up activities along the route, Moscow is using specially-designed liquefied natural gas vessels, in cooperation with the Chinese, to export natural gas from the Amal region to Asia.

Last year, Canada escorted American Coast Guard buoy tender USCGC Maple (WLB-207) through the passage as it sailed from Sitka, Alaska, to Baltimore, Md., for overhaul, as a way for Canada to reinforce its claim of territorial waters.

In light of all that activity, Zukunft added, “it is probably in our best interest to protect our interests” in the Arctic.

Zukunft said the Coast Guard’s long-range strategy of having a fleet of six icebreakers “provide the ways and means” to do that. With five shipyards competing to build the first heavy icebreakers and appropriations in hand to build the first one-and-a-half, “we need six.”

The question facing future commandants is “what do you need an icebreaker to do — 20, 30, 40 years” from now. Factoring in military needs, be it direct energy weapons or some other system yet to be developed, design decisions today must leave “reserve space, weight and power.”

Zukunft, who is schedule to retire June 1, termed the icebreaker “the sentinel of the Arctic … to provide domain awareness” in a region of increased human activity in petroleum and natural gas exploration and extraction now. It is also a region “where the tyranny of distance” is a major factor in coping with man-made disaster or search and rescue.

“It is a place where no service chief wants to find himself without rescue capability.”

That human activity is going to increase, Zukunft added, as glaciers and ice on the transpolar sea route continue to melt. He said he could imagine a shipping season running from July well into September by 2030 if present trends continue in the Northern Polar Route.

That melting ice and subsequent rising sea level is not only directly impacting the indigenous populations living in the Arctic through erosion but is also affecting Tidewater Virginia and the Louisiana Gulf Coast in the form of flooding.

“What starts in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.” He added, “I have to deal with the consequences.”

Zukunft said, “Inuit elders have a name for [melting glaciers, sea ice and coastal erosion]. They call it: ‘climate change.'”

  • D. Jones

    “The speech by former US Vice-President Al Gore was apocalyptic. ‘The North Polar ice cap is falling off a cliff,’ he said. ‘It could be completely gone in summer in as little as seven years. Seven years from now.’

    Those comments came in 2007 as Mr Gore accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his campaigning on climate change.

    But seven years after his warning, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that, far from vanishing, the Arctic ice cap has expanded for the second year in succession – with a surge, depending on how you measure it, of between 43 and 63 per cent since 2012.”

    dailymail co uk/sciencetech/article-2738653/Stunning-satellite-images-summer-ice-cap-thicker-covers-1-7million-square-kilometres-MORE-2-years-ago-despite-Al-Gore-s-prediction-ICE-FREE-now.html

    Accordingly, the next new icebreaker should be named after the former Vice President.

    • NR

      “This winter, a combination of warmer-than-average temperatures, winds unfavorable to ice expansion, and a series of storms halted sea ice growth in the Arctic. This year’s maximum extent, reached on March 7 at 5.57 million square miles (14.42 million square kilometers), is 37,000 square miles (97,00 square kilometers) below the previous record low, which occurred in 2015, and 471,000 square miles (1.22 million square kilometers) smaller than the average maximum extent for 1981-2010.” – Per the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado

      Al Gore may have been overly fatalistic in his prediction and timeline but the fact is the ice is receding. Ice free summers in the arctic aren’t just a possibility they are a near certainty in due time.

      • Duane

        “ice free” does not mean no polar ice cap … it means enough free ocean surface or relatively thin ice (less than 1 m) in the marginal coastal areas that might allow an icebreaker to sneak through for a few weeks in the summer … at best.

        Polar ice maximum extent varies wildly year to year, that’s nothing new, but most of that variance occurs in the open ocean areas. But the variation year to year in the marginal coastal areas, where icebreakers would have to navigate, such as in the Northwest Passage, does not vary that much year to year. The total ice extent matters much less than exactly where the ice is, for purposes of surface navigation.

        • D. Jones

          Agreed. It’s been varying considerably for some time:

          realclimatescience com/government-arctic-sea-ice-fraud/

          Whether it’s increasing or decreasing, we definitely need better ice breaking capability. I’d offer that a sensible procedure would be to buy some icebreakers from whoever can supply them (including China or Russia) while the USCG & congress & builders sort out what we can build and when it could enter service. Probably a good 5-10 years from now, I’d wager, based on shipbuilding time from start of funding & design to finished product. In the meantime we have precious little capability.

          • Stephen

            Your comments are on point. Maps of Greenland had to be adjusted when exposed land was identified as off-shore islands; more surprises await as the glaciers retreat. Russia has taken advantage of the Northern Passage; their fleet of icebreakers are able to keep the Asian waters open to commerce & military. China will have an icebreaker fleet before the US adds on operational heavy. US & Canada should have a more cooperative approach to patrolling the Arctic. CANAM Icebreakers? Just a thought. Now, about the Jones Act. We really missed the mark in Puerto Rico. No US flag, no service, no relief, despicable. How many Naval Academies do we need? One. Coast Guard Academies? One. We only need one Merchant Marine Academy. Federal dollars are being spent to over-supply a shrinking US flagged industry. Pick one; shutter the rest. The day of the Baltimore Clipper has passed…

        • NR

          I fully understand the difference between ice free and navigable. I think we are simply talking about a different time scale. Ice cover certainly varies wildly from year to year but the trend from 1979 (first sat tracking) has been down. In the longer term (50-100 years) at the current rates of loss the arctic ocean could be fully navigable in the summer.
          And anyone using “realclimatescience” as a source of information shouldn’t be taken seriously. Next, you’ll say the world is flat and the sun rotates around the earth. Science is real, it is proven via experimental method and data. If you don’t agree with the results go out and do the work to prove it wrong.

          • D. Jones

            By all means, show and cite your data.

            Climate has nothing to do with flat-earth loons, and your attempt to associate the two exemplifies a lack of intellectual rigor.

          • NR

            I would never expect anyone to take my word for anything without presenting evidence.

            Raw data and graphical representations of it are available online for free (taxes paid for it) at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). You can access the raw data on: Surface temp, Aerosols, Cloud cover, Precipitation, Storms, Radiation flux, etc.

            You could also use NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. There is meteorological data going back to 1763 available! It isn’t like we started tracking the weather this decade.

            It isn’t a challenge to take surface temps and see the increase over time. The people who willfully ignore the overwhelming preponderance of evidence showing that the planet is in fact warming are exactly like flat earthers, anti vaccine folks, and before them, those who refused to believe in a heliocentric solar system. “Men believe that which they wish to be true”

  • zard

    Human existence is inseparable from the creation of material

    The equipment manufacturing is the material basic and important industrial and the cornerstone of national economy development.

  • Hugh

    This needs to be addressed, with solid claims and regular patrols as possible, in conjunction with the Canadians, with the appropriate 200 nm EEZ, extended up to 350nm in way of the continental shelf.

  • disqus_89uuCprLIv

    Bad. Bad Idea.

    Repeal the Jones Act and China will destroy the US maritime industry!

    Repeal would mean all the internal waterways of the US would be open to foregn competition and all US vessels would be replaced by covertly subsidized Chinese vessels to place a lock on the US economy.

    US shipping is too expensive? Repeal would lower costs? When did corporations make saving money for consumers a priority?

    All antibiotic medications are made in China, marketed by US corporations?
    Has anyone seen a large reduction in prices? No. But big pharma is making record profits.

    Bad. Bad idea!