October 5, 2023

Cassidy Leads Introduction of Legislation to Level Playing Field for Offshore Mariners

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced the American Offshore Worker Fairness Act. The bill creates a level playing field between U.S.-flagged vessels and foreign-flagged vessels working in offshore energy activities in U.S. waters while also attempting to strike a balance between “providing the fullest possible employment for Americans in Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) activities” and ensuring the installation of offshore wind turbines and the activities of oil and gas rigs or mobile offshore drilling units are not disrupted. The changes also improve the oversight of foreign-flagged vessels and the mariners who work on these vessels.

“U.S. and Louisiana mariners and maritime companies must be able to compete on a level playing field in the Gulf of Mexico for all offshore energy activities,” said Dr. Cassidy. “We cannot continue to lose to foreign vessels who take advantage of loopholes, avoid paying taxes, and hire foreign workers. This bill finds the balance that maximizes opportunities for U.S. companies and workers and avoids project delays.”

Current law requires that all vessels, rigs, platforms, or other offshore structures be manned by U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Existing law also includes an exemption from hiring Americans or lawful permanent residents for offshore activities and allows vessels that are more than 50 percent foreign-owned to operate in U.S. waters with foreign crews. The exemption was included to eliminate potential retaliation by foreign nations against American workers in foreign offshore activities. In practice, the exemption has not provided reciprocal access to foreign waters for U.S. mariners. At the expense of U.S. mariners, the exemption has allowed foreign vessels from some of the wealthiest countries to work in U.S. waters and employ mariners not from their home or flag nation but from other low-wage nations. Since labor is the biggest operational expenditure for a vessel operator, operators rely on foreign mariners who are often paid less than their U.S. counterparts. Because foreign mariners are not subject to U.S. tax and labor laws, foreign vessels owners are able to leverage the cost savings derived to undercut the charter rates of similar U.S. vessels.

The American Offshore Worker Fairness Act: 

  • Ensures mariners manning foreign-flagged vessels engaged in offshore energy activities in U.S. waters are either U.S. mariners (U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents) or are citizens of the nation where the vessel is flagged. 
    • Vessels such as oil rigs or mobile offshore drilling units or vessels performing certain offshore lifts, including offshore wind installation vessels, are exempt.
  • Creates a new domestic market survey requirement for foreign vessels laying pipelines or cables on Outer Continental Shelf. This proposal would allow foreign vessels to perform this work if a U.S. flagged vessel is not available and/or capable of performing the work sought. 
  • Requires foreign mariners serving in U.S. waters to secure a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) thereby improving the oversight of foreign-flagged vessels and the mariners that work on board them. 
  • Sunsets all current letters of OCSLA non-applicability based requires foreign vessels to reapply for a new letters based upon their current ownership, and limits future letters of OCSLA non-applicability to be valid for 12 months from the date of issue. 
  • Limits the number of foreign mariners that may receive a visa sponsored by a vessel’s letter of OCSLA non-applicability to 2.5 times the number of persons required by the vessel’s safe manning document.
  • Creates greater transparency on enforcement for Jones Act violations.
  • Increases funding and extends the authorization for Maritime Centers of Excellence

A House version of the legislation was included in the Coast Guard reauthorization earlier this Congress.

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