The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's class of 2019 celebrates Saturday.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's class of 2019 celebrates Saturday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A top White House trade official said at Saturday’s U.S. Merchant Marine Academy graduation ceremony that he favors requiring that all U.S. government cargo be carried on U.S.-flag ships.

The remarks were by Peter Navarro, the director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, who is outspoken in his belief that “economic security is national security” — a phrase he repeated during his address to the 202 graduates.

The Cargo Preference Act of 1954 requires that at least half the volume of U.S. government cargo be transported on commercial ships registered under U.S. law, as long as “such vessels are available at fair and reasonable rates.”

“Through this policy, cargo preference pumps essential lifeblood into the maritime industry,” Navarro said.

Then, departing from prepared remarks, he said, “I’d personally love to see us go to 100 percent on the U.S. government nonmilitary cargo.”

A White House spokesman did not respond to an email Saturday as to whether President Donald Trump shares Navarro’s sentiments.

A separate 115-year-old U.S. law requires that all military cargo be transported on U.S.-flag ships.

Navarro’s support for extending that to all government cargo as well is in line with his pro-tariff, protectionist positions.

Navarro also denounced calls to repeal the Jones Act, which mandates that all cargo shipped between U.S. ports be on U.S.-built and -registered vessels, with primarily U.S. crews.

Opponents of the law say it increases shipping costs and consumer prices.

In an October opinion piece in The Hill, Mark Perry, a scholar with the pro-free-market American Enterprise Institute, wrote that “the Jones Act keeps otherwise uncompetitive elements of the American shipping industry afloat” and that  rescinding it would, for example, allow transportation of petroleum products on foreign ships for about a third of the cost of U.S. vessels.

The law came under fire after Hurricane Maria, because opponents said it led to higher recovery costs and less access to goods for Puerto Rico.

Navarro said repealing the law “could devastate our domestic maritime industry and leave ourselves unarmed against global competition — and likely unprepared to meet our military’s sealift demands or respond to domestic crises, like the next major hurricane.”

The United States already has a shortage of U.S. mariners to mobilize in case of war, he said. Repealing the Jones Act requirements would worsen that situation, Navarro said.

Navarro’s address, which also lauded Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs and increases in military spending, came before 200 students received their bachelor of science degrees and two were awarded a master of science in marine engineering.

Fifty-four graduates also were commissioned into the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, and 99 to the Navy Reserve Strategic Sealift Officer Program.

Graduate Hannah Gizzi, 22, of Jupiter, Florida, said she welcomes the role in the sealift officer program, which means she could be mobilized in a war or other national emergency.

Gizzi, who majored in marine engineering, will soon begin working as an inspector of ships around the world.

“Who doesn’t love traveling?” Gizzi said. “You get to experience the world.”

She added she is looking forward to a job inspecting ships because “I love hands-on work.”

Dominique Neubelt, 22, of Little Silver, New Jersey, became the fifth member of her family to earn a marine academy degree. Brother Ethan graduated last year, and siblings Heidi, Gabriel and Max — three of four quadruplets — did so in 2017.

Each sibling sailed recreationally, so careers on the seas made sense, said their mother, Melanie Neubelt.

“They love being on the water,” she said.

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