I was honored to be present in South Philadelphia on June 30 to witness the christening of the largest container ship ever built in the United States. It was built by Philly Shipyards for shipping company, Matson, Inc., and was named for the former Hawaii senator, war hero, and long-standing maritime champion Daniel K. Inouye.
At a time when the U.S. maritime industry is fighting to keep its place among international competitors, this event was a momentous occasion. Built for the Hawaii trade, the Inouye represents the blending of the most advanced technologies with proven American shipbuilding skills and was constructed, fittingly, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia has a 300-year legacy as a major center of maritime industrial commerce and serves as a vital economic engine for the entire region, including South Jersey, which is where I hail from.
Once merely an early colonial port settlement, Philadelphia was transformed by the maritime industry into one of the nation’s largest cities boasting a formidable complex of shipping companies, terminals, port facilities, and private and public shipyards. In that founding generation, “American-built” and “American-crewed” ships meant freedom, independence, and economic and military successes for a young nation. That meaning has not changed to this day.
Philadelphia’s growth and success continues with a number of important infrastructure upgrades, expansions and modernization projects. The Port of Philadelphia is implementing a phased $300 million infrastructure improvement plan to strengthen its wharf, add new cranes, and upgrade and enlarge its terminal and warehouses.
America has a proud maritime history, but it has never been just about ships and ports. To me it’s more about the American mariner; the men and women who have advanced the American way of life by serving at sea, and the men and women of the U.S. Merchant Marine. They are always among the first called to action to support and sustain our armed forces in national and international crises. Those same mariners will breathe life into this new ship and sail her confidently and competently for years to come.
Compared to the 22,000+ Twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU, or ‘containers’) mega-container ships that are currently in service, the 3,600 TEU Daniel K. Inouye may seem small. However, the dedicated service that she will provide to the people of Hawaii and the West Coast will be priceless. A 50,000-ton ship is still a huge piece of machinery, and standing on Inouye’s deck I could see the thousands of man hours it took to design, engineer and construct her. And at a time when flying the U.S. flag is often more costly than a foreign flag, I saw the critical jobs it provided the shipyard workers who built her and the mariners who will take her to sea.
In 2018, the U.S. maritime industry faces many challenges, but this stunning Aloha Class container ship, built at home in the Philly Shipyard by American workers, is a big part of the solution. We need more ships like the Inouye, and there’s another new 3,600 TEU containership currently under contract to be built. All told, the Inouye is a boon to American economic health and security. In the arc of our nation’s maritime history, it is a shining moment worth celebrating. Aloha!