A U.S. Senator from Hawaii has been back-channeling both the Biden and Trump administrations on behalf of a Hawaiian shipping company’s interests. If she succeeds in her campaign, the cost of nearly all goods sold in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands will undoubtedly increase even further.
The CNMI and Guam – already isolated, struggling to get by, and lacking voting representation in Congress – have been the target of U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono’s (D-Hawaii) efforts to advance Matson shipping’s financial interests in the region. Matson is the Hawaii-based shipping company that once enjoyed a monopoly in Guam and the CNMI before APL joined the market in 2015. It also is a major contributor to Ms. Hirono’s political campaigns.
During its monopoly years, Matson steeply increased its container shipping rates, driving up the cost of living in the Marianas, where more than 90 percent of all consumables are imported. APL stymied the increases, when it entered the market with its ships. Those ships operate between the U.S. mainland and Guam and the NMI under the authority of the Maritime Security Program.
The MSP – a creation of Congress and the Clinton administration – has been hailed by military and foreign policy strategists as key to the protection of American interests throughout the world. Essentially, in return for operating in the domestic shipping trade during peace time, companies that enter the MSP allow the Secretary of the Navy to commandeer those ships during time of war or national emergency, thereby providing America a merchant marine that is forward deployed in strategic areas throughout the world at all times.
While APL operates under the MSP, Matson operates as a Jones Act carrier, and does not volunteer its ships during time of war or national emergency for the benefit of the country.
In a September 15, 2021 letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, Ms. Hirono asked the secretary for regular updates on Matson’s pursuit of the purging of the APL Saipan from the region.
“I am writing in regards to there U.S. Maritime Administration’s (MARAD) Maritime Security Program (MSP) and I would like to bring to your attention two occasions I wrote to the U.S. Department of Transportation during the last administration voicing concern about their decision to include the APL Saipan – a vessel engaged in domestic trade – in the MSP,” Ms. Hirono’s letter to Mr. Buttigieg opens.
Indeed, and as the senator’s letter states, she and her counterparts from Hawaii – U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa – together and separately wrote letters to former secretary of transportation Elaine Chao and the heads of MARAD since 2017.
Ms. Hirono was busy batting for Matson at the expense of our islands in the twilight of the destruction of the economies of the Marianas and without regard for increasing shipping prices. In a July 22, 2020 letter to Admiral Mark Buzby, MARAD administrator, and General Stephen Lyons, U.S. Transportation Command commander, Ms. Hirono lectured the executives about the APL Saipan. “I am deeply concerned,” the senator wrote, “MARAD did not inform me in its 2016 letter that this vessel was already serving Saipan, which represented exactly my expressed concern — a MSP vessel operating on a domestic route that competes with an unsubsidized Jones Act carrier.”
The democrat senator, who has close ties with former and defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Guam’s former congresswoman, Madeleine Bordallo, was actively interfering in an ongoing matter under litigation in favor of Matson… a company that is among her top campaign financiers.
The Hawaii Congressional delegation’s attempts to interfere and cripple the economies of the Marianas is part and parcel to a larger campaign that has been waged by Matson essentially since APL entered the Guam trade. Matson has thrice sued the U.S. Maritime Administration to revoke its permit for APL to operate in this market.
APL this past summer had enough and itself filed a federal civil lawsuit in the District Court of Washington, D.C., alleging Matson has engaged in anti-competitive anti-trust practices outlawed by the Sherman Antitrust Act. Guam Attorney General Leevin Camacho has said his office is watching the case, as Guam has a local antitrust statute that mirrors its federal counterpart.
The Biden administration, according to Ms. Hirono’s most recent letter, is siding with Matson. “Earlier this year,” the senator wrote to Mr. Buttigieg, “the Biden Administration moved to remand the case back to MARAD, stating MARAD had erred in their 2020 approval and just this month the United States District Court for the District of Columbia remanded the APL Saipan matter back to MARAD for reconsideration.”
The removal of the APL Saipan from the Guam trade will have a crippling affect on the CNMI’s already frazzled economy. Should Matson succeed in ridding the Guam trade of APL altogether, the Mariana Islands surely will face even steeper increases to the cost of living.
Two questions linger from this exposure of Hirono’s quiet campaign involving Guam and Saipan: What the hell does she think she’s doing getting involved, where she should mind her damn business? And where the hell are the leaders of Guam and the CNMI on such a critical issue?