The United States is implementing measures to enhance access to commercial products tankers in order to secure oil shipping for its armed forces during times of crisis, according to a top official from the Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT has expressed concern that disruptions to the U.S. economy could occur if these vessels were needed for military use. As part of the Tanker Security Program, the U.S. plans to charter 10 internationally trading tankers by 2023, each receiving an annual payment of up to $6 million. These tankers must be U.S. operated and have American crews.
To date, nine vessels have joined the program, and it is expected that the final one will join soon. Six of the vessels will ultimately transfer to the U.S. flag. The charter agreements are set to last until 2035. The program represents the establishment of organic capacity in the tanker industry, according to Ann Philips, Administrator of the Maritime Administration (MARAD), the DOT’s agency responsible for waterborne transportation.
MARAD is also working on bringing in an additional 10 vessels next year. The U.S. military has historically had access to limited tanker capacity, and this initiative aims to address that. In addition, the U.S. has a separate access initiative for 60 container ships involved in international trade.
Aside from the Tanker Security Program, MARAD is responsible for a ready-reserve force of around 48 ships, primarily RORO (roll on-roll off) carriers located throughout the U.S. Over the next few years, efforts will be made to recapitalize this fleet through service life extension or the purchase of used vessels.
However, the U.S. is currently facing a shortage of mariners, estimated to be at around 1,800. MARAD is actively working to address this issue through recruitment and training programs.
In August, two U.S. officials indicated that Washington may consider placing armed sailors and Marines on commercial ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz in response to alleged attempts by Iran to hijack ships in international waters.