The head of the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA) is calling on US officials to reconsider proposed legislation which it says could make it more difficult to develop American offshore wind projects.
Announced last year, the American Offshore Worker Fairness Act (AOWFA) aims to limit the number of non-US citizens working on foreign-flagged vessels in US waters.
According to the IMCA, which represents more than 700 firms globally, the amendments would require that crews of foreign-flagged vessels engaged in offshore energy activities in US waters be either American citizens or legal permanent residents or citizens of the vessel’s flag nation.
Additionally, the AOWFA would introduce other regulatory changes relating to worker credentials, visa limits and proof of vessel ownership.
It also mandates annual US Coast Guard inspections of foreign vessels with heavy penalties introduced for breaches.
The IMCA said while the proposed amendments “appear to offer protections for American crews and vessels” as well as protecting pay, the bill overlooks several issues which would “adversely impact” the US government’s offshore energy goals and targets.
The industry body said it supports the current regulations contained in the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, known as the ‘Jones Act’, which places restrictions on shipping between US ports.
AOWFA provides ‘a level playing field’
Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy announced the AOWFA in February last year an introduced it to the US Senate in April.
In a statement, his office said the bipartisan legislation aims to “provide a level playing field” between US flagged vessels and foreign-flagged vessels working in offshore energy activities in US waters.
The changes would also “improve the oversight of foreign-flagged vessels and the mariners who work on these vessels”, the statement said.
Senator Cassidy said the bill gives “the American worker a fair shot”.
“U.S. and Louisiana mariners and maritime companies lose when foreign vessels, which do not pay U.S. taxes, business taxes or payroll taxes, take advantage of loopholes to hire foreign workers for half the cost,” Senator Cassidy said.
The proposed changes received support from the Offshore Marine Service Association (OMSA) and the Shipbuilders Council of America after they were announced.
OMSA president Aaron Smith said the US vessels and merchant mariners cannot compete with offshore workers making less than what American citizens would or should accept.
“On a level playing field, U.S. vessels and U.S. merchant mariners can compete with any anyone on the plant,” Mr Smith said at the time.
“The American Offshore Worker Fairness Act closes this loophole and ensures that when foreign vessels operate in U.S. waters, they play by our rules and pay U.S.-level wages.”
Shipbuilders Council of America president Matthew Paxton said the “common sense” legislation “closes a loophole that has long been exploited by foreign competitors to undercut America’s maritime workforce”.
IMCA argues US lacks sufficient offshore capacity
As US legislators consider the bill, the IMCA said the proposed changes ignore the realities of the global offshore sector and doesn’t consider the lack of appropriate personnel or vessels for US operations.
IMCA chief executive officer Iain Grainger said the proposed legislation ignores the reality for offshore delivery in wind markets around the globe.
“There is a worldwide shortage of specialist vessels, a limited talent pool with the skills, knowledge and experience required to operate them safely, and huge demands driven by the move to Net Zero and energy security concerns,” Mr Grainger said.
“The U.S. government has ambitious targets for 30GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030 which will be unachievable without the specialist knowledge, skills and construction vessels provided by international marine contractors who – uniquely – operate on a global basis moving from project-to-project.”
Mr Grainger urged US legislators to “look beyond simplistic rhetoric” and consider the “more complex and nuanced realities of our industry”.
“A tightening of restrictions on offshore workers will simply result in the U.S. becoming an unattractive place to do business to the detriment of America’s energy ambitions and strategy,” he said.
The IMCA has issued several warnings this year over the sustainability of the offshore wind sector.
In February, the group’s former head warned a wave of “unprofitable” offshore wind contracts could see firms focus instead on cash-rich oil and gas.
Meanwhile in August, Mr Grainger said he feared the UK domestic supply chain is not robust enough to meet the scale of the ambition set out by the country’s offshore wind targets.