Home Substantial portion FreightWaves Classics: Maritime Administration Promotes US Merchant Navy

FreightWaves Classics: Maritime Administration Promotes US Merchant Navy

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According to the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) website, the Maritime Administration (MARAD) “encourages the development and maintenance of an adequate and well-balanced United States Merchant Navy sufficient to carry domestic trade by air. water and a substantial part of its foreign trade by water, and capable of serving as a naval and military auxiliary in times of war or national emergency.

In addition, MARAD is responsible for ensuring that the United States has “an adequate shipbuilding and repair service, efficient ports, efficient intermodal marine and land transportation systems, and an adequate transportation capacity. reserve in case of national emergency ”.

Grain loading at PortMilwaukee. (Photo: Wisconsin Marine Historical Society)

Agency history

The origins of maritime administration can be traced back to the Shipping Act of 1916, which created the US Shipping Board. The Shipping Board was the first federal agency to regulate US commercial shipping and promote the US merchant navy.

World War I began in August 1914 and over time the war caused major disruptions to navigation. The disruption was one of the main reasons Congress passed the 1916 Act. Congress established the Shipping Board “… for the purpose of encouraging, developing and creating a naval auxiliary and naval reserve and a merchant navy, to meet the demands of the United States’ commerce with its territories and possessions and with foreign countries; to regulate water carriers engaged in the foreign and interstate commerce of the United States.

The United States was a neutral nation for almost three years after the start of World War I. However, its ships and citizens were vulnerable. On January 28, 1915, the American merchant ship William P. Frye, which was carrying a cargo of wheat to Great Britain, was sunk by a German cruiser. Tensions rose after a German submarine sank the British liner Lusitania in May 1915. Among the nearly 1,200 passengers who died were 128 Americans.

As a result of additional transport losses, the role of the Navigation Council in meeting peacetime shipping requirements was altered after the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

The Victory and Liberty ships built during WWI and WWII helped the United States move war material around the world.  (Photo: National Park Service)
Freighters known as Victory and Liberty Ships built during WWI and WWII helped the United States move war material around the world. (Photo: National Park Service)

Shipbuilding

With the authority of the Merchant Shipping Act, the Navigation Council created the Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC). The EFC has launched a major shipbuilding and shipyard construction program; it has acquired, managed and operated vessels on behalf of the Board of Navigation. World War I ended in November 1918 – before the construction program reached full capacity – however, shipbuilding continued until 1921. At that time, nearly 2,300 new ships had been built.

Unfortunately, the massive shipbuilding program resulted in a surplus of post-war ships; causing a long depression in the industry. Congress then passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 in an attempt to stabilize the industry. The EFC was renamed the Merchant Fleet Corporation in 1928. Subsequently, the Merchant Fleet Corporation and the US Shipping Board were merged under the United States Department of Commerce in 1930 as the United States Shipping Board Bureau.

Another ship is launched from the Tacoma Tideflats.  (Photo: Port of Tacoma)
Another ship is launched from the Tacoma Tideflats. (Photo: Port of Tacoma)

Merchant Shipping Act

Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, which created the US Maritime Commission. The Commission has taken over the duties, functions and property of the Shipping Board Bureau. Although this law was passed 85 years ago, it still governs many of the programs that support the US marine industry.

President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. as the first chairman of the Commission. Like its predecessors, the United States Maritime Commission was responsible for advancing and maintaining a strong Merchant Navy to support United States commerce and defense. The responsibilities of the Commission included the regulation of maritime trade, the supervision of cargo facilities and terminals, and the administration of subsidy funds for the construction and operation of private commercial vessels.

In addition, the Merchant Marine Act authorized the Commission to “design and build 500 modern merchant ships over a period of 10 years”. The construction program was underway at the start of World War II; the responsibilities of the Commission in peacetime changed considerably, just as those of the Maritime Transport Commission had been changed by war in 1917.

Workers surround the shaft and propeller of a ship under construction at the Ira S. Bushey & Sons Shipyard.  (Photo: South Street Seaport Museum)
Workers surround the shaft and propeller of a ship under construction at the Ira S. Bushey & Sons Shipyard.
(Photo: South Street Seaport Museum)

Administration of the navy

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941. Among the many actions aimed at turning the nation and government on a war footing, President Roosevelt has created the War Shipping Administration (WSA). Executive Order 9054 effectively separated the Maritime Commission into two parts – the Commission to design and build ships and the WSA to acquire and operate them. The two agencies worked together – in part because Admiral Emory S. Land served as both chairman of the Maritime Commission and administrator of the WSA.

A convoy of merchant ships in the North Atlantic during World War II.  (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)
A convoy of merchant ships in the North Atlantic during World War II. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

From 1942 to 1946, the Maritime Commission and the WSA managed “the greatest industrial shipbuilding and naval operations effort ever.” Almost 6,000 merchant ships and naval auxiliaries were built. In addition, the WSA managed the simultaneous operations, repair and maintenance of thousands of vessels. After the victory of the war, the WSA was eliminated; its functions were transferred back to the Maritime Commission in 1946. In peacetime, the government no longer needed so many merchant ships; under the Merchant Ship Sales Act, several thousand ships have been sold or transferred. However, a number of ships were selected to form a reserve maritime fleet, known as the National Defense Reserve Fleet.

The seal of the United States Maritime Administration.  (Image: transport.gov)
The seal of the United States Maritime Administration.
(Image: transport.gov)

Government reorganizations

As part of a 1950 reorganization plan developed by the Truman administration, Congress eliminated the United States Maritime Commission. Its functions were divided between the new maritime administration and the Federal Maritime Council (FMB). Both agencies were part of the US Department of Commerce. As part of the reorganization, the subsidy and shipping regulatory functions of the Maritime Commission were transferred to the BKW. In addition, government owned shipping and promotion interests were the responsibility of MARAD.

Another government reorganization took place in 1961. The FMB was renamed the Federal Maritime Commission. As part of the reorganization, grant functions were transferred to MARAD as the Maritime Grants Board, which reported independently to the MARAD administrator. These reforms – now 60 years old – are still part of the current organizational structure of MARAD.

The seal of the US Department of Transportation.  (Image: transport.gov)
The seal of the US Department of Transportation.
(Image: transport.gov)

Transfer to USDOT

Finally, MARAD was transferred to USDOT in 1981, which completed the consolidation of all federal transportation programs into a single cabinet-level department.

Under USDOT, MARAD is still responsible for promoting the development and maintenance of a strong merchant navy – both for national defense and the subsequent development of its foreign and domestic trade. As part of its responsibilities, MARAD operates the United States Merchant Marine Academy (which is located in Kings Point, New York). MARAD also supplies and maintains training ships and funding for the six US State Maritime Academies.

In addition, MARAD continues to operate a fleet of government owned cargo ships which are maintained to meet national security requirements. Gray-colored Ready Reserve Force (RRF) ships are strategically positioned in US ports. The vessels are easily identified by their distinctive red, white and blue stripes. The ships are managed by commercial companies. As needed, RRF ships are available to support the deployment of U.S. military forces overseas and in the event of a national emergency.

MARAD Ready Reserve Force ships.  (Photo: MARAD / USDOT)
MARAD Ready Reserve Force ships. (Photo: MARAD / USDOT)


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