As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been winding down over the past several years, U.S.-flag carriers have had to increasingly diversify their cargo base toward other U.S.-flag preference cargoes and commercial shipments. One of the most important cargo segments has been U.S. Export-Import Bank financed cargoes.
President Obama’s National Export Initiative has led to a massive increase in Ex-Im Bank financing since 2009, and U.S.-flag carriers have been among the beneficiaries of new cargoes, just as military cargoes started to diminish. This has led to an expansion of the U.S.-flag fleet in certain segments, notably in heavy-lift vessels, but has also had a positive impact on the roll-on/roll-off sector and containerized cargo segment, and has helped to sustain hundreds of merchant mariner jobs.
During the past year, American Roll-on/Roll-off Carrier has moved more than 51,000 square feet of cargo in support of Ex-Im Bank-funded projects to various locations in Australia. The carrier’s vessel Endurance
, considered the largest ro/ro vessel in the U.S.-flag commercial fleet, operates in a liner service in cooperation with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics from Europe and the United States via the Panama Canal to Australia and Asia, offering Ex-Im Bank shippers reliable transportation and transshipment options.
Much of this volume is a direct result of an Ex-Im Bank $2.95 billion direct loan to the Australia Pacific Liquefied Natural Gas project. This transaction was Ex-Im Bank’s second-largest single loan ever, and it’s also the bank’s first LNG project in Australia. The project is on Curtis Island in South-Central Queensland.
The principal U.S. exporters for the project are Conoco Phillips and Bechtel International, both located in Houston. Conoco Phillips is the third-largest energy company in the United States and the fifth-largest refiner in the world. Bechtel is a global specialist in chemical, petrochemical and LNG plant construction. In the first quarter of 2014, Bechtel shipped nearly 26,750 square feet of cargo to Australia using ARC’s U.S.-flag ocean transportation.
“Ex-Im Bank-funded cargoes provide a key incentive for U.S.-flag vessels to remain in the U.S.-international trades, and the cargo base is crucial to the continued existence of the active, commercially viable, privately-owned U.S.-flag commercial shipping fleet and U.S. merchant marine, which in turn is available to provide sealift and intermodal services to the U.S. government in time of war or other national emergencies,” the company said in a statement.
Ex-Im Bank was founded in 1934 and is the official export credit agency of the United States, helping American businesses compete in the global marketplace. It is subject to periodic re-chartering by Congress and the next deadline for this is Sept. 30. The bank is self-sustaining and provides financing in areas that are under-served -- or not served at all -- by regular commercial banks, and has returned money to the U.S. Treasury every year since fiscal year 2008, including $1 billion in fiscal year 2013 alone.