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美国造船业:不复昔日风光,急需二次振兴

Scott Borgerson 2019年05月18日

美国政客们的注意力都集中在南方的陆地边界上,但他们却忽略了一个至关重要的问题:美国航运的长期衰落。

1959年的布鲁克林海军造船厂。当前,美国航运业正处于危机之中。美国可以通过废除《琼斯法案》,迈出重振美国航运业的第一步。图片来源:New York Daily News Archive NY Daily News via Getty Images

说起如何让美国的制造业、军事乃至道德水平恢复昔日的荣光,很多人都能说得头头是道,但美国造船业面临的危机却很少有人关注。

在这方面,首先不能不谈美国国力的衰弱。美国告别了插着星条旗的商船遍布五大洋的时代,这不仅影响了美国人的民族自豪感,更重要的是其地缘战略影响。世界上90%的国际贸易是通过海运完成的,健康的商业海运能力关乎一个国家的经济命脉,同时它也是建设强大海军和海防的基础。

仅仅75年前,也就是第二次世界大战刚结束时,美国还拥有世界上规模最为庞大的商业船队,占全球商船总吨位的60%。时至今日,全球三大海运强国分别是希腊、中国和日本,其中任意一国拥有的商船吨位都比美国大出三倍。

美国人发明了高速帆船,发明了蒸汽机轮船,发明了船用集装箱,然而时至今日,美国在海洋创新的几乎所有方面都落在了后头。美国的海运仍然在使用过时的技术,比如在近海贸易中,能用的船基本上都是上了岁数的。例如从美国西海岸向夏威夷运送货币的马特苏尼亚号已经46岁了,比夏威夷居民的中位年龄还要老。

大家只需看看,在卡特里娜风灾过后,美国各地不断要求就《琼斯法案》做出豁免,就不难想到美国海运行业的可悲境地(《琼斯法案》要求,运送国内货物的船只必须为美国所有,在美国制造,配备美国船员,悬挂美国国旗)。

波多黎各、阿拉斯加和夏威夷等美国海外领土现在都成了《琼斯法案》的受害者。当然其他受害者也有不少。比如美国在墨西哥湾区根本找不到堪用的悬挂美国国旗的天然气运输船,导致大量页岩气只能白白躺在那里,无法运到本土的消费者手中。同时由于《琼斯法案》导致的海运价格畸高以及船只质量老旧,夏威夷的一些农场主只能用飞机将牛羊空运到美国大陆。

既得利益集团通过这种经济寻租,更加巩固了既得利益。同时由于他们的强势游说,使得《琼斯法案》成了华盛顿的政治正确,更加说不得碰不得。长此以往,美国已经从全球最大海运国滑落成了一个二流海运强国。

曾几何时,美国对海运基础设施进行过大量投资。在二战最激烈的时期,布鲁克林海军造船厂雇佣了7.5万多名工人。伯利恒钢铁公司在超大型油轮的建造上一度领先世界。然而《琼斯法案》却令美国造船企业丧失了竞争力。在陆地上,美国本土的造船行业,包括那些钢铁工人、管道工、电焊工,几乎全部遭到灭顶之灾。而在海上,拥有美国海员的美国船只也同样越来越少。最近有报道称,费城造船厂目前再一次到了难以为继的地步。《琼斯法案》使得在美国造一条商船的成本比任何其他国家都高出了三至五倍。事实上,如今的美国各个造船厂,只能造出仅适用于近海航行的小型拖船和驳船,至于那些更大、能跑国际航线的远洋集装箱船、油轮和散装货轮,则主要由亚洲的竞争对手建造。

在美国海运贸易的全盛时期,美国各大海港就是高效的典范。而现在,港口成了美国安全部门紧盯的重点场所。在“9·11”事件后,美国国会通过了一项法律,要求对所有进口集装箱100%地进行大规模杀伤性武器检查。根据2016年国会预算办公室的一份报告,美国对大约5%的所谓“高风险”的进口集装箱进行了扫描检查。不难看出,从港口运营到海运行业的就业,再到造船工业,美国的整个航运业都陷入了严重的困境。

随着商业船队的日益萎缩,美国海军和海岸警卫队也成了泥菩萨过江。他们的命门被捏在一个由军工企业组成的既得利益联盟手中,漫天要价,而且总是不能按时交货。比如最近,一家以前从没有造过破冰船的造船厂刚刚拿到了一份7.5亿美元的大单,要在密西西比州建造一艘海军急需的新型极地破冰船。问题是,靠近北极的那几个北约盟国明明有更先进的技术,美国却偏偏宁可多花四倍的钱,多等上几年的时间,也要在国内建造。对于这些挟持了海军造船订单的军工既得利益联盟,人们理应感到愤怒。同时,人们也应该反思美国的航海事业何以变得如此充满铜臭味,同时这个国家却偏偏很少意识到这一点。

政府官员应该清醒认识到美国航运业面临的可怕处境。重振美国航海事业,虽然任重道远,但至少有三项易于执行的政策可以马上搞起来,以使事情朝着正确的方向发展。

首先,美国应该废除《琼斯法案》。该法案是一项失败的试验,它扼杀了在美国领海内的航运创新,同时几乎葬送了整个美国航运业。

废除《琼斯法案》,不仅有助于提震美国近海运输,同时也对环境有利。通过“海上高速公路”运输货物要比在拥堵的公路上运输更加高效,同时也有助于缓解美国各大主要交通干道的交通压力。明年恰逢《琼斯法案》立法100周年,正是废除这一蚕食公共利益、充当资本家帮凶的“恶法”的最好机会。

第二,美国应该加入1982年的《联合国海洋法公约》,这其实只需要参议院的建议和同意。加入《公约》将使美国在北极事务上真正有了一席之地,同时也使美国在刻赤海峡问题上与俄罗斯的对峙有了法理依据,更能使美国在维护所谓“国际航行自由”问题上获得领导权地位。加入《联合国海洋法公约》,也能让美国人再次想起自己是一个海权国家。

第三,正如手机让发展中国家跨过了过时的有线通讯网络一样,美国企业现在也面临着将航运事业数字化的好机会(比如我的公司CargoMetrics Technologies就是一家收集和分析航运大数据的公司)。美国创业公司已经利用互联网改造了很多行业,利用美国人的聪明才智,他们也能将这个完全依赖手工操作和语音喊话的行业彻底革新,让美国航运事业再次振兴。

六个世纪以前,在欧洲人的船还不敢开到看不见陆地的地方时,一位名叫郑和的中国将军已经在率领当时世界上最强大的舰队远征大洋。不过不久后,中国犯了一个战略错误,放弃了海洋,将重心放在陆地上。结果在随后的几个世纪里,中国遭遇了一系列屈辱的侵略,而侵略它的,正是那些造船而非烧船的国家。

今天,复兴的中国正在推动建上“21世纪海上丝绸之路”,南沙群岛、西沙群岛扩大战略存在,并优先发展造船工业。中国在航海事业上的积极进取,不由得让人联想起当年郑和宝船舰队的远征精神。

那么,美国又该怎么做?历史已经给我们上了清楚的一课。如果不正视海洋,美国的命运将无异于当年放弃航海事业的其他国家,在各大洋上失去其重要地位,最次降格成世界舞台上的一个次要角色。如果你遇见一个英国人,你不妨问问他,对他们曾经引以为豪的日不落帝国舰队,以及现在这个岛国的现状作何感想。

如果美国的航运事业再次振兴,结果就不一样了,尤其是对于美国的外交战略。美国其实有很多相对易行的政策决定,能够输通美国的海上贸易大动脉,给美国经济带来新的活力——这不仅可以刺激经济增长,在战时也可以大大增加美国的海军实力。

现在,美国政客们的注意力都集中在南方的陆地边界上,但他们却忽略了一个至关重要的问题:美国航运的长期衰落。(财富中文网)

本文作者斯科特·博格森是前美国海岸警卫队官员、美国对外关系委员会委员,现任CargoMetrics Technologies公司首席执行官。

译者:朴成奎

While debates rage about how to restore America’s manufacturing, military, and even moral foundations to periods of perceived glory, little attention is being given to the crisis in shipping.

This aspect of national decline is a grave issue for more than the pinch to patriotic pride that comes from the loss of the stars and stripes on the world’s oceans, but also for crucial geostrategic reasons. When 90% of international trade measured by volume is transported on ships, a healthy merchant marine is in the country’s vital economic interests and, as has always been the case, it is the foundation for a strong coast guard and navy.

Just 75 years ago, at the end of World War II, the U.S. boasted the world’s largest commercial fleet, owning 60% of total tonnage. Today, the top three fleets in the world are Greek, Chinese, and Japanese, each of which are three times larger than the shrinking American fleet.

The nation that invented the clipper ship, the application of the steam engine at sea, and the venerable shipping container has become a laggard in virtually every aspect of marine innovation, still using outmoded technologies, for example, on coastwise and ferry trades with what decrepit vessels are left. One of the ships that transports goods from the West Coast to Hawaii for example, the 46-year-old Matsonia, is older than the median age of residents of Hawaii.

One need look no further than the constant need for waivers to the Jones Act—the law requiring domestic goods to be transported on ships owned, flagged, crewed, and built in the U.S.—on the heels of hurricanes to appreciate the dire condition of the American fleet.

Puerto Rico, Alaska, and Hawaii have become Jones Act hostages. Countless other examples of the rot abound, such as the fact that there are no American-flagged liquefied natural gas carriers, leaving American shale gas stranded on the Gulf Coast and unable to get to American consumers on the Atlantic seaboard. Hawaiian ranchers are flying cattle to the mainland because of the expense and substandard quality of Jones Act ships.

Because of the sharp lobby of entrenched interests quietly enriching themselves from this economic rent, the topic of the Jones Act has become a third rail in Washington, D.C. Along the way, the U.S. has slipped from the world’s greatest seafaring nation to a second-rate shipping power.

Our nation once invested in vibrant marine infrastructure: During its peak in World War II, the Brooklyn Naval Yard employed 75,000 people. Bethlehem Steel was once a world leader in building supertankers. The Jones Act has caused the nation’s shipbuilders to become uncompetitive and has nearly totally wiped out labor onshore—including steelworkers, pipe fitters, and welders—and offshore, leaving fewer American ships to crew with American sailors. As recently reported, the Philadelphia Shipyard is on death watch—again. The law has made the cost to produce an American merchant vessel three to five times more expensive than what it takes to build a comparable hull in any other country. The reality is American yards today can really only construct relatively small tugs and barges capable of steaming near the coast, leaving larger oceangoing container ships, oil tankers, and dry bulkers—which can carry much greater amounts of cargo—to be constructed by Asian competitors for international routes.

American seaports also used to be models of efficiency humming with trade; now the creaky waterfront is a vulnerable spot in a brittle supply chain. In the wake of 9/11, for example, Congress passed legislation requiring 100% of imported containers to be checked for weapons of mass destruction. According to a 2016 Congressional Budget Office report, the U.S. scans the roughly 5% of incoming containers that are deemed high risk. From port operations to labor and shipbuilding, the U.S. maritime sector is in serious trouble.

As a result of the decimation of the American merchant marine, the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy are left to fend for themselves, captive to a military industrial complex selling overly expensive ships always over schedule and over budget. In the latest head scratcher, a yard that has never launched an icebreaker before was just awarded a $750 million contract to try its hand building a desperately needed new polar security cutter in Mississippi. This ship will be at least four times more expensive and take years longer to build than more advanced icebreaking technology offered to us by our Scandinavian NATO allies. The military industrial complex hijacking naval shipbuilding should cause outrage and soul-searching about how our maritime sector has gotten into such a funk, but as a nation we barely notice.

Government officials need to wake up to the dire predicament facing our shipping sector. While the journey to reclaim the country’s maritime heritage will be a long one, there are three relatively easy policy actions that can be taken immediately to kickstart things in the right direction.

First, the U.S. should posthaste repeal the Jones Act, a failed experiment which has choked innovation in domestic waters with the consequence of killing American shipping across the board.

This would not only provide a needed jolt to American cabotage, it would be good for the environment: Putting cargo on a marine highway and taking it off of clogged roads is a more efficient mode of transportation, and it will reduce highway traffic along the Interstate 5 and 95 corridors. The centennial of the Jones Act next year is the perfect anniversary to end this crony capitalist policy feeds like a parasite off of the public interest.

Next, and requiring simply the Senate’s advice and consent, the U.S. should finally join the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This will give the nation a literal seat at the table in the delineation of the Arctic, a legal bulwark against Russian encroachments in the Kerch Strait, and needed leadership to protect international freedom of navigation. The treaty’s ratification might also get Americans thinking about their country as a seafaring nation again.

Third, and similar to how cellphones have let developing countries leapfrog antiquated communication networks, there is an extraordinary opportunity for American companies to digitize shipping. (My company, CargoMetrics Technologies, collects and analyzes big shipping data.) American startups have harnessed the Internet to remake other analog industries, and the nation can become relevant in shipping again by using Yankee ingenuity to disrupt what remains a completely manual and voice-brokered business.

Six centuries ago, a Chinese admiral named Zheng He led the greatest fleet then ever assembled at a time when Europeans could barely navigate out of sight of land. China made a strategic blunder soon after, however, in abandoning the sea, choosing to face inward instead. As a result, in the centuries that followed, China suffered a series of humiliating invasions by nations that built boats instead of burning them.

Today, a resurgent China is pursuing a maritime Silk Road, expanding its strategic presence around the Spratly and Paracel Islands, making its shipbuilding industry a priority, and otherwise pursuing a number of maritime endeavors reminiscent of the spirit that initially launched Zheng He’s treasure fleet.

What will America do? History teaches us a clear lesson. Fail to face the sea, and the U.S. will suffer the fate of other nations that have before abandoned shipping: a fate of losing relevance on the world’s oceans, and ultimately becoming relegated to a lesser role on the world stage. Ask a Brit how they feel about their once-proud fleet and the current state of their island nation.

But a different outcome is possible if the U.S. revitalizes its shipping, especially if it is part of a broader foreign policy strategy. There are a number of relatively easy policy decisions that can nourish the American economy with renewed seaborne arteries pumping with trade—and this could stimulate economic growth while simultaneously restoring the core nucleus around which naval might is anchored in times of war.

While American politicians are fixated on the southern land border, they are ignoring a vitally important issue: reversing the long decline of American shipping.

Scott Borgerson, a former Coast Guard officer and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the CEO of CargoMetrics Technologies.

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