Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis announced officially yesterday that the Reagan administration's long-awaited program to revamp the struggling maritime industry will encourage U.S. merchant ship operators to acquire and repair their ships in foreign yards.

Lewis announced what he called "the initial elements to emerge from the administration's ongoing efforts to formulate a national maritime policy" to help the merchant marine, as President Reagan promised to do in his campaign.

As expected, they included authorization for ship owners to obtain federal operating subsidies for foreign built vessels, repeal of the tariff on repairs in foreign shipyards, and authorization for foreign vessels reregistered in the United States to become eligible immediately to transport U.S. food aid shipments.

Lewis also said the administration "reaffirms the sanctity of the Jones act," which requires that cargo carried between domestic ports be shipped in U.S.-built, American-crewed vessels, and of "existing cargo preference laws," which guarantee U.S. vessels some percentage of international cargo. Despite pleas by the maritime unions and other industry officials, he did not endorse any extension of cargo preference requirements.

Lewis said the administration was "assessing additional policy considerations," which DOT officials confirmed was a euphemism for proposals so politically controversial that the administration has been unable to muster a consensus on them.