As the war in Afghanistan winds down, and other major US conflicts recede in memory, shipping companies flying the American flag are scrambling for business to make up for an anticipated shortfall. That’s because federal law requires military transport cargo on US ships. For U.S. flag carriers, the Export-Import Bank of the United States provides another mandated lifeline. Under an 80-year-old Congressional resolution, American ships must transport certain goods procured with bank loans, and destined overseas, provided the ships are available and have the necessary capacity. While agricultural products were the original impetus, heavy capital equipment now forms the backbone of this business. For power and energy-related loans, shipping often means ocean-born transport and a major book of business. “It is substantial,” says Lorne Thompson, COO of the think tank Lexington Institute, who has researched the bank. The carriers, understandably, are nervous that some in Congress want to abolish the bank, or at least clip its wings. “If Ex-Im Bank business goes away, it won’t be a very bright future for US flags,” says Dave DeBoer, general manager US flag commercial sales for American Roll-on Roll-off Carrier LLC. ARC owns a fleet of just seven ships, but ranks as the third largest US flag carrier. Maersk Line subsidiary Maersk Line, Ltd is the largest, with 30 ships. ARC has transported power generation turbines. When asked DeBoer cites an Ex-Im Bank financed loan that will provide GE wind turbines and blades to Vietnam. American ships will carry them from Houston’s port. Just how much all this is worth is a matter of interpretation. In 2012, the latest figures available, Ex-Im Bank cargo added about $94 million to revenue totals of US flag carriers, according to the Maritime Administration of the US Transportation Department. In the world of global shipping, that’s nothing. Consider that Maersk Line posted global revenue last year of $26.2 billion, with profits of $1.5 billion. On the other hand, that $94 million revenue represented almost double 2011 revenue and about nine times that registered in 2008. What’s more, for the remaining US flag carriers, every dollar helps. After all, it’s possible to count the number of commercial American flag lines on both hands. “There are only a few of us left,” says DeBoer, who lists eight shipping companies with international commercial capabilities that fly the American flag. “That’s it.”