Steve's Blog

Rhinos, Riverboats, and a Skirmish at Sea

Congress is out of session this week due to the Memorial Day district work period.  “District” in this case means “Congressional District”, not the District of Columbia, so most Members of Congress are back home, not in Washington.  Thus there are no Congressional hearings this week, so there’s really nothing to update you on relative to the three scandals swirling around the Obama Administration – Benghazi, the IRS targeting conservative groups, and government suppression of the press.

So this week I’m going to discuss three topics completely unrelated to the Obama scandals: two positive hometown stories, and an international incident that resulted in the death of a Taiwanese fisherman.

First, Sumatran rhinos.  Sumatra is one of the many islands that make up the nation of Indonesia.  Rhinos are endangered worldwide, but the Sumatran rhino is on the verge of extinction.  There may be fewer than 100 of them on earth.  There are about ten in zoos, and the rest are in the wild in Indonesia.  The number of Sumatran rhinos in the wild have been diminishing at an alarming rate, due to poaching, habitat reduction, and other environmental issues.

The first Sumatran rhino to be born in captivity in over 100 years was born right here in Cincinnati, at our zoo.  This baby rhino, a male named Andalas, was followed by a brother and a sister.  Andalas was returned to Indonesia to their breeding program, where he has fathered only the fourth baby Sumatran rhino to be born in captivity.  So three of the four rhinos born in captivity in over a hundred years were born at the Cincinnati Zoo, and the fourth was sired by a Cincinnati-born rhino.  Pretty impressive for Cincinnati.

Here’s the problem.  The parents of Andalas and his siblings have now both died of old age.  So our program here – the most successful Sumatran rhino breeding program in the world – has come to a halt.  As I mentioned, Andalas is back in Indonesia (breeding his own offspring), and since you can’t breed a brother and sister, the brother born in Cincinnati was sent to the Los Angeles Zoo, and we only have one female left, Suci.  We need at least another rhino, ideally two, to continue our world-renowned breeding program.

Here’s where I come in.  The Cincinnati Zoo is in my Congressional District.  And on top of that, I happen to be the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, just the region of the world where Indonesia is located.  So I and my staff have been working on this matter for months now.  I have sought the help of Secretary of State, John Kerry, in interceding with the Indonesian government on behalf of the Cincinnati Zoo.  I have also spoken with the Indonesian Ambassador to the United States.  He suggested that I get him a letter setting out our case, which he would give to the Indonesian President, who happens to be in the United States this week.  I not only provided him with such a letter, but I personally got it signed by both Republican and Democratic members of my subcommittee, including the lead Democrat on the committee, Congressman Eni Faleomavega of American Samoa, (which is sort of in the Indonesian neighborhood, at least relative to Cincinnati.)

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Next, riverboats.  I’ve been trying to breathe life into the Delta Queen for about five years now.  For about 40 years, the Delta Queen had Cincinnati owners, and her home port was here in Cincinnati.  Many Cincinnatians fondly remember taking overnight trips (sometimes honeymoons) on the Queen, or just visiting this beautiful steamboat when she was docked on the banks of the Ohio.

Here’s the problem.  Back in 1966, Congress passed legislation called the Safety at Sea Act, which was aimed at ocean going vessels, but also because of her size and wooden infrastructure, applied to one non-ocean going vessel, the Delta Queen.  From 1966 to 2005, Congress passed nine waivers, allowing the Delta Queen to operate despite the law.  Then in 2005, due to a labor dispute, and contrary to my best efforts, Congress wouldn’t pass a waiver, so the Delta Queen couldn’t any longer take overnight passengers on trips.  So since then, this American treasure has been sitting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, underutilized as a hotel, and on the path to oblivion.

It appears that the labor issue has been resolved, and I have introduced legislation, (with both Republican and Democratic co-sponsors) to give the Queen a waiver once again.  Chances look good, and there’s a Cincinnati group that is seriously interested in purchasing her.

My goal is to at least allow the Delta Queen to once again ply the waters of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers with overnight passengers, and ideally have her home port right here in Cincinnati.  (By the way, a special thanks to Congressmen Brad Wenstrup and Thomas Massie who have been supportive and very helpful in this effort.)

Again keep your fingers crossed.

And finally, a skirmish at sea.  A few weeks ago (May 9th) in waters which are claimed by both Taiwan and the Philippines, a Philippine Coast Guard ship opened fire on a Taiwanese fishing boat, killing a Taiwanese fisherman, Hong Shi-Cheng.  Although this incident did not receive much attention from the American press, it has gotten considerable attention in the Southeast Asian press, and there is great consternation by the governments and people of both nations.

Why is this important to the United States?  Both countries are important American allies.  Security cooperation and stability in the region are key U.S. interests.  China is growing in its military and economic power in that region.  And most experts predict that China will be the United States’ principal rival over the next century, and probably beyond.

As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, I was contacted by both countries early on to intercede.  Congressman Eni Faleomavega of American Samoa and I sent a letter to the Philippine government urging them to apologize and give compensation to the dead fisherman’s family.  We also met with both the Philippine and Taiwanese Ambassadors to the United States in my office last week.  I’ll let you know how all of this turns out.

Anyway, these are just three of the many interesting things I am working on as your humble servant in the United States House of Representatives. See you next week, when I’ll once again be reporting to you from Washington.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it!