This October marks the 520th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of the Americas - the result of one of many other explorations that took place between the 15th and 17th Centuries. European countries, searching for quicker and safer trade routes to Asia, turned to the sea and triggered the Age of Discovery. This milestone of history moved us from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era. Brave seafaring explorers were responsible for increasing access to goods and materials, establishing global trade and exchange of culture, and they spurred a desire for an increased knowledge of science and technology.

Columbus and others discovered what we know to be fact today - 70 percent of our globe is covered with water. Nearly all of our world's population - 80 percent - lives near an ocean. The most amazing fact - one that most don't realize, but take for granted - is that 90 percent of world commerce travels by water. Think about that for a moment. Practically every product that you use or consume came to you on a ship. As you read this, there are about 35,000 cargo ships at sea.

The maritime shipping industry stands as a primary driver of trade in one of the world's largest economies. In the United States alone, the industry annually accounts for: 2.56 billion short tons of cargo, 100 million passengers on ferries and excursion boats, 2.5 million domestic jobs indirectly created by shipyards, $29 billion in wages, $11 billion in taxes, and $100 billion in annual economic output. The industry provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of Americans in every corner of our nation--from longshoremen in ports along our four seacoasts, to towboat operators navigating the Mississippi, to shipbuilders in East Coast dry docks, to the men and women who crew American-flag vessels of all types.

Maritime shipping has proven to be the most cost effective and environmentally friendly way to ship material. Twenty-five percent of the cargo in the United States travels from port to port or on our inland waterways, yet only accounts for three percent of our total domestic freight shipping costs. To put that in perspective, a truck can carry one ton of freight 155 miles on one gallon of gas. On a cargo ship however, that same load can be carried nearly 600 miles - proving it to be 370 percent more cost-efficient and less damaging to the environment.

The industry's humanitarian role is one that paints a positive picture of America worldwide, as it distributes food to the world's poor and responds to global emergencies. Since its inception in 1954, the U.S. Food for Peace program has benefited more than three billion people in 150 countries and it is our maritime Americans and shipping industry that ensure this aid reached those in need. This assistance generates international goodwill and builds connections for years to come.

The Navy League of the United States is a civilian non-profit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to reminding the American people and their government that the United States of America is a maritime nation, and that its national defense and economic well being are dependent upon strong sea services - United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, United States Coast Guard and Flag Merchant Marine. On this Columbus Day, it is fitting and proper that we remember those mariners who maintain freedom of the seas and preserve peace, prosperity, and the American way of life.

Dale Lumme, National Executive Director of the Navy League.