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Looking to boost Maritime Security Program in midst of a global pandemic

Struggling private shipping companies could be needed in a military emergency.

NORFOLK, Va. — It's been said that economic security is national security. And the maritime industry is a critical component of national defense, keeping commerce flowing, and providing military sealift when needed.

But those private companies are struggling right now because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Virginia Port Authority reported that cargo tonnage was down 9 percent in the month of March, and leaders there in April predicted "tough weeks ahead."

Now, as Congress considers the next stimulus package, Virginia 2nd District Representative Elaine Luria has sent a letter to House and Senate leadership. She is seeking support for bolstering the Maritime Security Program.

Among the goals: increasing the federal stipend provided to those shipping companies by $1.8 million per ship, to keep their ships and crews ready to respond in a crisis.

"They're not moving cargo like they normally do, but they're an essential part of our national security," she said. "And we need to continue to make them viable as a commercial entity as commercial vessels that continue to function yet also be on-call to support our national defense."

Stakeholders are not just looking at now, but down the road.

"At some point, we will get through this," said Augustine Tellez of the Seafarers International Union. "And when we get through it, we've got to make sure these ships are operating, that the ships are there so that these folks continue their employment."

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