January 30, 2024

Ranking Members Larsen, Carbajal Statements from Hearing on Rising Conflicts in the Red Sea

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Salud Carbajal (D-CA) during today’s hearing titled, “Menace on the Red Sea: Securing Shipping Against Threats in the Red Sea.”

Video of Larsen and Carbajal’s opening statements can be found here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Ranking Member Larsen:
Thank you, Chairman Webster and Ranking Member Carbajal, for holding this hearing on the ongoing Houthi attacks on commercial shipping.

I look forward to learning about the status of domestic and international supply chains as well as the U.S. and international response. 

Ninety percent of goods moved worldwide spend time on a ship. As a country that depends on maritime trade, the United States must do everything to ensure resilient supply chains.

For its part, the United States Navy continues to do an exceptional job to ensure free and open maritime trade around the world.

I was on this Committee when, in 2009, pirates captured the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia, the Navy ensured the safe return of the vessel and every mariner on board.

Unfortunately, a new threat exists—continuous and unpredictable Houthi attacks on commercial vessels transiting the Suez Canal and the Red Sea.

I would like to take a moment to formally recognize the work of the U.S. Navy, which is playing a leading role in Operation Prosperity Guardian and—with partner nations—is regularly thwarting Houthi attacks. As a result, ships continue to transit the region daily.

I am saddened though by the death of two Navy SEALs who perished during an operation last week to seize Iranian weapons bound for Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers and Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram died protecting America’s sovereignty, and their sacrifice kept deadly weapons out of the hands of terrorists. 

However, the threat posed by Houthi rebels persists. To avoid this challenge, some operators have diverted their vessels around the Horn of Africa, adding 10 to 12 days, increased carbon emissions and $1 million in operating costs to their voyages.

Those who do transit the Red Sea face significant increases in their insurance premiums or risk being dropped altogether. In either case, the result is higher prices for U.S. consumers.

Over the past 4 years, the global supply chain has been tested in ways previously unimaginable.

From these Houthi attacks in the Red Sea to historic drought conditions at the Panama Canal to COVID-19-related backlogs, one thing is clear—smooth sailing on the high seas should not be taken for granted.

Congress responded to the COVID-19 supply chain crisis in several ways.

First, Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Among other things, the BIL invests $2.25 billion in the Port Infrastructure Development Program.

That investment will help ensure that ports are prepared for inevitable fluctuations in cargo that jeopardize the seamless movement of goods. 

Second, Congress passed the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which ensures fair and transparent policies and practices associated with international shipping.

In 2009, in the wake of the piracy attack on the Maersk ALABAMA, this Subcommittee took immediate action by holding hearings and coordinating a comprehensive federal response to ensure the protection of U.S. ships and U.S. mariners.

That response involved the Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Commerce and the Coast Guard.

The result was the immediate protection of U.S. flagged ships as well as a coordinated international effort to apprehend and prosecute pirates and associated criminal organizations. 

This time, even more is needed. The Houthi threat requires an international response that goes beyond a justified response in attacking Houthi aggression.

Today, we will hear from Dr. Ralby about the need to empower Yemen to combat the threat internally.

Just as the U.S. should continue to stand by Ukraine, we must support our friends around the world—their security and sovereignty is our security and sovereignty.

While we cannot control the rain in Panama, Congress can ensure that our infrastructure here at home works.

That means continued investment in roads, rail, airports, ports, vessels and the women and men that make transportation work.  

It’s not too soon to start considering what that next investment in infrastructure and the U.S. maritime industry will look like.

I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that the investments started in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are continued. I would note as well that we have the responsibility on this Committee, and this Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, to look at supply chain issues with regards to shipping around the world and shipping in the U.S.—and that’s the focus of this hearing.

Thank you, Chairman Webster, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.

Ranking Member Carbajal:
Thank you, Chair Webster. Today’s hearing is timely so we can better understand the ongoing situation in the Red Sea and the effect it has on the global economy.

About 12 percent or $1 trillion of global trade passes through the Red Sea every year. Ship operators have scrambled to account for the increased risk by taking extreme measures such as diverting vessels, paying increased insurance costs, hiring private security, and relying on the U.S. Navy led Operation Prosperity Guardian for protection in the region.

The U.S. and global economy will be affected by the crises in the Red Sea—the only question is how much.

I look forward learning more about the commercial and economic impacts, but I would like to use the rest of my time to focus on the human factor.

Life on a ship is not glamorous. Mariners are typically at sea for several months at a time, they have limited access to internet and their families, and they are on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  

For foreign mariners on foreign ships, it’s worse. They’re often required to work a year or more at a time, are paid unfair wages, and are often subjected to subpar health conditions and legal systems. Unfortunately, that’s the result of the “flag of convenience” system where ship owners can register their vessels in low tax/low regulation countries and find mariners from anywhere in the world—so long as they’ll tolerate the wages.

For all mariners though, the Houthi threat in the Red Sea is real. The U.S. Navy is doing incredible work protecting lives and commerce but living, sleeping, and working under constant threat of deadly attack is unacceptable and unsustainable.

Unfortunately, this is business as usual for American mariners. Through every emergency, conflict, and war, the U.S. merchant marine has shown up. They bravely sailed during World War II when ships were being sunk daily by torpedoes. They delivered military supplies to our troops during the Gulf war when foreign mariners and foreign companies refused. They routinely sail hospital ships to disaster-stricken regions.

Currently, American mariners are showing their bravery and dedication by sailing through the Red Sea to deliver military cargo and humanitarian aid to the region.

Congress must find new and innovative ways to bolster the U.S. merchant marine.

I’ll close by expressing my appreciation for the U.S. Navy. Without them, vessel traffic in the Red Sea would have come to a halt in November. 

I’d also like to remember the two Navy Seals who died during an operation in the Arabian Sea to intercept the delivery of Iranian weapons to Houthi terrorists. They are heroes and their sacrifice protected countless military and civilian lives.

Thank you Chair and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.