Why is the US Navy going to the rescue?

Byline: | Category: Foreign Policy, Military, Taxes & Spending | Posted at: Tuesday, 9 November 2010

At the risk of sounding like a heartless bastard, why is the US Navy going to the rescue of a foreign-flagged cruise ship that is not in danger? 

Some have argued that since Carnival Cruise Lines is paying for the food, that it’s okay.  That, however, doesn’t nearly replace the value of the training time that the USS Ronald Reagan might lose by being diverted to this mission.  Not to mention, an aircraft carrier is hardly the economic choice to deliver a mere 5 tons of food.  If it has to be a naval vessel, why not the USS Rentz, a guided missile frigate within the Reagan’s carrier group?  Its two helicopters are each capable of lifting about 4 tons per sortie. 

But there’s a larger issue at stake:  The United States Navy has taken on the task of protecting the world’s oceans–but to whose benefit? And at whose cost?  The Carnival Splendor is a Panamanian-flagged ship.  So let the Panamanian Navy come their rescue.

Today, ships bearing a flag of convenience carry most of the world’s cargo and passengers.  That’s true even when the shipping lines’ owners are based in the United States.  In this case, Miami-based Carnival Cruise Lines operates the Splendor for weekly cruises out of the Port of Los Angeles.  There’s nothing at all Panamanian about Carnival.

The flag a ship sailed under once meant something.  It symbolized that the full weight of the nation was behind that vessel.  Woe be to those who might attack it.  Nowadays the flag means nothing but the opportunity to pay a lower tax rate.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, per se, but when a ship finds itself under attack by pirates or in distress at sea, the flagging country–often Liberia, the Marshall Islands, the Bahamas, or Panama–doesn’t offer much in the way of support.  They don’t have to:  the ships’ owners know that the US Navy will come to the rescue.

The American taxpayer now bears the full brunt of the world’s shipping.  Cruise operators and shipping lines pay nothing for the privilege of American naval protection.  Not to mention, offloading this cost means that the US indirectly subsidizes the producers of foreign goods. 

This has to stop.  It was only a couple generations ago that the globe’s two greatest naval powers–the US and Britain–also flagged a large number of the world’s ships.  The costs those commercial operators paid for the privilege, in turn, helped to fund the navies that protected their voyages.  It wasn’t a tax, it was a fee for service.

Since then, the US has required of US-flagged ships some silly rules that have nothing to do with safety–like regulating that the ships’ crews be unionized.  That should be overturned.  But the privilege of American naval protection comes at a cost–a cost not borne by those currently benefitting from that protection.  It’s time to make the world pay for the world’s shipping costs.  If a ship’s owners want the US Navy to protect their voyages, they need to pay the US Navy’s price.

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3 Responses to “Why is the US Navy going to the rescue?”

  1. cecil woods Says:

    It is quite simple. The ship is full of American citizens.

  2. Brad Says:

    Before you can even hire a crew, you need a ship — and you can’t register a ship in the US unless it’s built in the US. Cruse ships are built in South Korea and Europe… in other words, places where such laws didn’t encourage shipbuilders to commit GM-style suicide by trying to milk a captive market.

    I’m sure the operators would register some ships in the US given a chance, but as with gambling, the only time the US government isn’t interested in taking more taxes is when people are lining up to pay.

  3. OINK Says:

    Any ship in trouble gets help from any other ship in the neighborhood. Unwritten Law of the Sea — next time it may be you who’s sinking.