United States Maritime Commission

(Source: “United States Maritime Commission,” Wikipedia 5 November 2013)

The United States Maritime Commission was an independent executive agency of the U.S. federal government that was created by the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, passed by Congress on June 29, 1936, and replaced the United States Shipping Board which had existed since World War I. It was intended to formulate a merchant shipbuilding program to design and build five hundred modern merchant cargo ships to replace the World War I vintage vessels that comprised the bulk of the United States Merchant Marine, and to administer a subsidy system authorized by the Act to offset the cost differential between building in the U.S. and operating ships under the American flag. It also formed the United States Maritime Service for the training of seagoing ship’s officers to man the new fleet.


The purpose of the Maritime Commission was multifold as described in the Merchant Marine Act’s Declaration of Policy. The first role was to formulate a merchant shipbuilding program to design and then have built over a ten-year period 500 modern fast merchant cargo ships which would replace the World War I-vintage vessels which made up the bulk of the U.S. Merchant Marine prior to the Act. Those ships were intended to be chartered (leased) to U.S. shipping companies for their use in the foreign seagoing trades for whom they would be able to offer better and more economical freight services to their clients. The ships were also intended to serve as a reserve naval auxiliary force in the event of armed conflict which was a duty the U.S. merchant fleet had often filled throughout the years since the Revolutionary War. The second role given to the Maritime Commission was to administer a subsidy system authorized by the Act which would offset the differential is cost between both building in the U.S. and operating ships under the American flag. Another function given to the Commission involved the formation of the U.S. Maritime Service for the training of seagoing ship’s officers to man the new fleet. The actual licensing of officers and seamen still resided with the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation.

President Roosevelt nominated Joseph P. Kennedyfirst head of the Commission. Kennedy held that position until February 1938 when he left to become US Ambassador to Great Britain. After Kennedy’s departure, the chairmanship was assumed by Rear Admiral Emory S. Land, USN (ret.), who had been the head of U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Construction and Repair prior to his appointment to the Commission on the behest of the President and where he had been a deputy commissioner since the founding of the body. The other four members of the Commission in the years before the beginning of World War II were a mix of retired naval officers and men from disciplines of law and business. The man most notable in the group Land brought to the Commission was Commander Howard L. Vickery, USN, who, like Land, was a naval officer closely involved in the construction of new Navy vessels. Vickery became responsible for overseeing the Commission’s shipbuilding functions including the design and construction of the ships, developing shipyards to build them and companies to manufacture the complicated and highly specialized ship’s machinery. As World War II drew closer, Vickery was very much at the forefront of putting into place the Emergency Shipbuilding Program which man like Henry J. Kaiser were so instrumental in developing into an industry which would perform some of the greatest feats of wartime industrial production ever previously witnessed and never since matched.

As a symbol of the rebirth of the U.S. Merchant Marine and Merchant Shipbuilding under the Merchant Marine Act, the first vessel contracted for was SS America, which was owned by the United States Line and operated in the passenger liner and cruise service during 1940-1. Upon the U.S. entry into World War II, Americawas requisitioned by the U.S. Navy and became USS West Point.[1] In the prewar years, several dozen other merchant ships were built for the Commission under its original 500 ship Long Range Shipbuilding Program but it wasn’t until the late fall of 1940 the critical importance of the Commission to the defense of the lifeline to Great Britain and to the national mobilization for war became apparent when the beginnings of the Emergency Shipbuilding program were laid. Together, all the Maritime Commission’s shipbuilding program became known as Ships for Victoryand great pride was taken in it by the many thousands of ordinary citizens went to work in the shipyards and joined the ranks of the shipbuilding workforce.

From 1939 through the end of World War II, the Maritime Commission funded and administered the largest and most successful merchant shipbuilding effort in world history, producing thousands of ships, including Liberty shipsVictory ships, and others, notably Type C1Type C2Type C3 freighters and T2 tankers. Most of the C2s and C3s were converted to Navy auxiliaries, notably attack cargo ships,attack transports, and escort aircraft carriers and many of the tankers became fleet replenishment oilers. The Commission also was tasked with the construction of many hundred “military type” vessels such as Landing Ship, Tank (LST)s andTacoma-class frigates and large troop transports. By the end of the war, U.S. shipyards working under Maritime Commission contracts had built a total of 5,777 oceangoing merchant and naval ships.

In early 1942 both the training and licensing was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard for administration, but then late in the fall of 1942, the Maritime Service was transferred to the newly created War Shipping Administration which itself was created for the purpose of overseeing the operation of the fleet of merchant ships being built by the Emergency Program for the needs of the U.S. Armed Services. The WSA was added to the list of wartime agencies created within the Roosevelt Administration and was intended to relieve the already full plate of responsibilities of the Commission, yet they shared the same Chairman in Admiral Land and so worked very closely together.

With the ending of World War II, both the Emergency and Long Range shipbuilding programs were terminated as there were far too many merchant vessels now for the Nation’s peacetime needs. In 1946, the Merchant Ship Sales Actwas passed to sell off a large portion of the ships previously built during the war to commercial buyers, both domestic and foreign. This facilitated the rebuilding of the fleets of both allied nations such as Great Britain, Norway and Greece which had lost a majority of their prewar vessels to the Battles of the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea. Although not sold outright to the nations we had only so recently fought, U.S. merchant ship helped nations which had been our enemies recover their merchant shipping capacity such as Japan which had lost many hundreds of its merchant vessels to the US Navy’s World War II submarine offensive in the western Pacific with the loan of vessels or to the carrying of relief cargoes to war ravaged Europe in both the rebuilding programs under the Marshall Plan and food aid send during the desperate winter of 1945-46 when famine loomed large over much of the continent. For the next 25 years, in ports all around the world one could find dozens of ships which had been built during the war but which now were used in peace. Many of those same ships continued to sail until the early 1980s but most had been sold for scrap in the 1960s and 1970s as more modern designs were developed and more efficient slow speed diesel enginesintroduced to replace the steamships which predominated those built by the Commission during the war years.

Ships not disposed of through the Ship Sales Act were placed into one of eightNational Defense Reserve Fleet(NDRF) sites maintained on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts. On several occasions in the postwar years ships in the reserve fleets were activated for both military and humanitarian aid missions. The last major mobilization of the NDRF came during the Vietnam War. Since then, a smaller fleet of ships called the Ready Reserve Force has been mobilized to support both humanitarian and military missions.

The last major shipbuilding project undertaken by the Commission was to oversee the design and construction of the super passenger liner SS United States which was intended to be both a symbol of American technological might and maritime predominance but also could be quickly converted into the world’s fastest naval troop transport.

The Maritime Commission was abolished on 24 May 1950, and its functions were divided between the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission which was responsible for regulating shipping trades and trade routes and the United States Maritime Administration, which was responsible for administering the construction and operating subsidy programs, maintaining NDRF, and operating the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy which had been built and opened during World War II and which continues to be funded and operated today as one of the five Federal Military Service Academies.


  • 1936: Merchant Marine Act abolishes Shipping Board and establishes Maritime Commission.
  • 1938: Maritime Commission authorizes large merchant fleet
  • 1940: Maritime Commission agrees to build 60 Ocean class merchant ships for the British Ministry of War Transportation.

See also

Responsibility for U.S. merchant shipping has been held by many agencies since 1917. For a history, see:


  • Ships for Victory: A History of Shipbuilding under the U.S. Maritime Commission in World War II, by Frederic C. Lane. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1950. ISBN 0-8018-6752-5

External links


United States Shipping Board

(Source: “United States Shipping Board” Wikipedia, 5 November 2013. Links below go to Wikipedia)

The United States Shipping Board was established as an emergency agency by the Shipping Act (39 Stat. 729), 7 September 1916. It was formally organized 30 January 1917. It was sometimes referred to as the War Shipping Board.

The Shipping Board’s functions were to:

  • Regulate:
    • commercial maritime carriers and trade practices,
    • marine insurance,
    • transfers of ship registry, and
    • the rates charged in interstate waterborne commerce.
  • Investigate adequacy of port and water transportation facilities,
  • Determine the necessity for steamship lines and the characteristics of vessels on those lines,
  • Develop a naval auxiliary and merchant marine, and
  • Subsidize private ship construction.

The Board was abolished, effective 2 March 1934.

Its successor agencies have been the U.S. Shipping Board Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce (1933–36); the U.S. Maritime Commission (1936–50); the U.S. Federal Maritime Board of the Department of Commerce (regulatory functions only, 1950–61); the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission (regulatory functions only, 1961- ); the United States Maritime Administration of the Department of Commerce (all other functions, 1950–81); and the U.S. Maritime Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation (all other functions, 1981- ).

Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (the Jones Act)

(Source: “Merchant Marine Act of 1920,” Wikipedia, 5 November 2013. Sources indicated the act was adopted in early June 1920. The post date assigned to this document is 1 June 1920.)

Merchant Marine Act of 1920

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (P.L. 66-261), also known as the Jones Act, is a United States federal statute that regulates maritime commerce in U.S. waters and between U.S. ports. Section 27 is part of the Jones Act that deals with cabotage (i.e., coastal shipping) and requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried in U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents. The Act was introduced by Senator Wesley Jones.

In addition, amendments to the Jones Act, known as the Cargo Preference Act (P.L. 83-644), provide permanent legislation for the transportation of waterborne cargoes in U.S.-flag vessels. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 has been revised a number of times, the most recent revision was the recodified version of 2006.[1]

The Jones Act is often confused with the Death on the High Seas Act, another United States maritime law that does not apply to coastal and in-land navigable waters.

Objectives and Purpose of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920

TITLE 46, APPENDIX App. > CHAPTER 24 > 861. Purpose and policy of United States[2] It is necessary for the national defense and for the proper growth of its foreign and domestic commerce that the United States shall have a merchant marine of the best equipped and most suitable types of vessels sufficient to carry the greater portion of its commerce and serve as a naval or military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency, ultimately to be owned and operated privately by citizens of the United States; and it is declared to be the policy of the United States to do whatever may be necessary to develop and encourage the maintenance of such a merchant marine, and, insofar as may not be inconsistent with the express provisions of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall, in the disposition of vessels and shipping property as hereinafter provided, in the making of rules and regulations, and in the administration of the shipping laws keep always in view this purpose and object as the primary end to be attained.


Cabotage is the transport of goods or passengers between two points in the same country by a vessel or an aircraft registered in another country. Originally a shipping term, cabotage now also covers aviation, railways, and road transport. Cabotage is “trade or navigation in coastal waters, or, the exclusive right of a country to operate the air traffic within its territory”. Cabotage is used in the context of “cabotage rights”, the right of a company from one country to trade in another country. In aviation terms, it is the right to operate within the domestic borders of another country. Most countries enact cabotage laws for reasons of economic protectionism, national security or public safety.The cabotage provisions relating to the “Jones Act” restrict the carriage of goods or passengers between United States ports to U.S.-built and flagged vessels. It has been codified as portions of 46 U.S.C.  Generally, the Jones Act prohibits any foreign built or foreign flagged vessel from engaging in coastwise trade within the United States. A number of other statutes affect coastwise trade and should be consulted along with the Jones Act. These include the Passenger Services Act, 46 USC section 289 which restricts coastwise transportation of passengers and 46 USC section 12108 restricts the use of foreign vessel to commercially catch or transport fish in U.S. waters.[3]These provisions also require at least three-fourths of the crewmembers to be U.S. citizens. Moreover, the steel of foreign repair work on the hull and superstructure of a U.S.-flagged vessel is limited to ten percent by weight. This part of the policy is required for national security to maintain a shipbuilding capacity for construction and repair of vessels within the United States.

Seamen’s rights

The U.S. Congress adopted the Merchant Marine Act in early June 1920, formerly46 U.S.C. § 688 and codified on October 6, 2006 as 46 U.S.C. § 30104. The Act formalized the rights of seamen.

It allows injured sailors to make claims and collect from their employers for the negligence of the ship owner, the captain, or fellow members of the crew.[4] It operates simply by extending similar legislation already in place that allowed for recoveries by railroad workers and providing that this legislation also applies to sailors. Its operative provision is found at 46 U.S.C. § 688(a), which provides:

“Any sailor who shall suffer personal injury in the course of his employment may, at his election, maintain an action for damages at law, with the right to trial by jury, and in such action all statutes of the United States modifying or extending the common-law right or remedy in cases of personal injury to railway employees shall apply…”

This allows seamen to bring actions against ship owners based on claims of unseaworthiness or negligence. These are rights not afforded by common international maritime law.

The United States Supreme Court, in the case of Chandris, Inc., v. Latsis, 515 U.S. 347, 115 S.Ct. 2172 (1995), has set a benchmark for determining the status of any employee as a “Jones Act” seaman. Any worker who spends less than 30 percent of his time in the service of a vessel on navigable waters is presumed not to be a seaman under the Jones Act. An action under the Act may be brought either in a U.S. federal court or in a state court. The seaman/plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial, a right which is not afforded in maritime law absent a statute authorizing it.


Critics note that the legislation results in costs for moving cargo between U.S. ports that are far higher than if such restrictions did not apply[citation needed]. In essence, they argue, the act is protectionism.

Critics also contend the Jones Act has caused the U.S. shipbuilding industry to build vessels in the U.S. which are more expensive than those built elsewhere. A 2001 U.S. Department of Commerce study indicates that U.S. shipyards build only one percent of the world’s large commercial ships. Few ships are ordered from U.S. shipyards except for cabotage. U.S. operators of ships in cabotage have an economic incentive to continue operating old vessels rather than replace them with relatively high cost vessels built in the U.S. The report concluded that the lack of United States competitiveness stemmed from foreign subsidies, unfair trade practices, and lack of U.S. productivity.[citation needed] However, the same argument buttresses that of their opponents who state that without the Jones Act, all remaining US shipyards would be deconstructed or outsourced overseas resulting in the utter destruction of the US Maritime industry. In turn, this would result in higher costs for US Navy vessels and eventually require most Naval ships meant for national defense to be built overseas as well.[5][dead link]

Moreover, critics point to the lack of a U.S.-flagged international shipping fleet. They claim that it is economically impossible for U.S.-flagged, -built, and -crewed ships to compete internationally with vessels built and registered in other nations with crews willing to work for wages that are a fraction of what their U.S. counterparts earn.[citation needed] However, the same argument is used by the Seamen Union which claims the Jones Act allows for a well paid, educated, and all American merchant mariner force.[citation needed]


Supporters of the Shipping Act maintain that the legislation is of strategic economic and wartime interest to the United States. The act, they say, protects the nation’s sealift capability and its ability to produce commercial ships. In addition, the act is seen as a vital factor in helping maintain a viable workforce of trained merchant mariners for commerce and national emergencies. During the Vietnam War, ships crewed by civilian seamen carried 95% of the supplies used by the American armed forces. Many of these ships sailed into combat zones under fire. The SS Mayaguez incident involved the capture of mariners from the American merchant ship SS Mayaguez.[6] Supporters say that it also protects seafarers from deplorable living and working conditions often found on foreign-flagged ships. Finally, they point to the key role played by the US Merchant Marine in supporting Global operations against terrorism and the Iraq and Afghanistan Campaigns. They claim that without these assets, the US would be under substantial foreign influence in conducting its policy in accordance with National Security.[5][dead link]

America needs a strong and vibrant U.S.-Flag Merchant Marine. That is why you can continue to count on me to support the Jones Act (which also includes the Passenger Vessel Services Act) and the continued exclusion of maritime services in international trade agreements. Barack Obama, August 28, 2008 [7][dead link]

I can assure you that a Reagan Administration will not support legislation that would jeopardize this long-standing policy … embodied in the Jones Act … or the jobs dependent on it. President Ronald Reagan, 1980 [8]

“The [Jones Act trailership] SS NORTHERN LIGHTS made 25 voyages and 49 port calls [to the Iraqi war zone]. She carried 12,200 pieces of military gear totaling 81,000 short tons and covering over 2,000,000 square feet (190,000 m2). Those statistics clearly demonstrate the value that the U.S.-flag shipping industry brings to the Defense Transportation System. General Norton A. Schwartz, USAF, Commander in Chief, U.S. Transportation Command, 2005 [8]

When it comes to backing the Jones Act, from my standpoint, it’s a no-brainer. We need a strong maritime industry, and part of a strong industry is highly trained merchant mariners, so many of whom are employed on Jones Act ships. We need a strong shipbuilding industry. We can’t let the generations that follow us forget what America was capable of when the call went out for Liberty and Victory ships during World War II. We need the current shipping capacity to move the lifeblood of this country where it needs to go, when it needs to go. The Jones Act supports all these things. It’s vital to our national security. Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, Commander, U.S. Military Sealift Command, 2012 [8]

The Jones Act has been supported by Presidents Obama, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, and Ford, and further all the way back to Woodrow Wilson who originally signed it into law in 1920. It is supported by American military leaders. Furthermore, there are other domestic interests which support the Act both from self-interest in keeping them cost competitive in some areas in contrast to the high-cost of sea traffic as well as more altruistic policies of keeping a diversified transportation system. In fact, all of these transportation interests intersect seafaring cargo at some point in the supply line. Consequently, retention of the Jones Act is also supported from the domestic airline, trucking, and rail industries. “Reduced to its essential terms, the Jones Act simply requires companies operating in the domestic commerce of the United States to comply with U.S. laws. This requirement includes corporate taxes, the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, Coast Guard standards, employing American citizens, etc. American ships are subject to these laws and foreign ships are not. This same fundamental principle applies to every other company doing business in the United States, from agriculture to retail.” (Quote from R.J. Pfeiffer, maritime expert former CEO of Alexander Baldwin in commentary published in the Star Advertiser 12/26/1997)

Waivers of Shipping Act provisions

Requests for waivers of certain provisions of the act are reviewed by the United States Maritime Administration on a case-by-case basis. Waivers have been granted in cases of national emergencies or in cases of strategic interest.[9]

In the wake of Hurricane KatrinaHomeland Security Secretary Michael Chertofftemporarily waived the U.S. Shipping Act for foreign vessels carrying oil and natural gas from September 1 to 19, 2005.[10][11]

In order to conduct an emergency shipment of gasoline from Dutch Harbor, Alaskato Nome in January 2012, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitanogranted a waiver to the Russian ice class marine tanker RendaRenda was originally scheduled to onload gasoline in Northern Japan for shipment but was unable due to a gale.[12]

The Department of Homeland Security issued a blanket waiver of the Jones Act to all shipping for 12 days from November 2 to 13 2012, following widespread fuel shortages caused by Hurricane Sandy.[13][14]

See also


  1. ^ http://www.1800jonesact.com/Jones-Act/
  2. ^ Title 46a of the US Code as currently published by the US Government reflects the laws passed by Congress as of Jan. 3, 2012, and it is this version that is published here.http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode46a/usc_sec_46a_00000861—-000-.html
  3. ^http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode46/usc_sup_01_46_06_V_08_D_10_551.htmlch.551 Coastwise Trade.
  4. ^ jones act
  5. a b “Maritime law tough to navigate,” Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. October 3, 2006.
  6. ^ Bush, George W. (May 21, 2002). “National Maritime Day, 2002”. Whitehouse.gov. Retrieved 2008-11-22.
  7. ^ “Obama Reaches Out to SIU and Michael Sacco in a Letter After SIU Endorsement”
  8. a b c http://www.americanmaritimepartnership.com/statements.html
  9. ^ “Coast wise: the U.S. marine Jeff Ownz is keeping a close watch on Maritime Act assaults,” Workboat. January 1, 2007
  10. ^ “DHS: Update: United States Government Response to the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina”. Dhs.gov. September 15, 2005. Retrieved July 6, 2010.
  11. ^ http://npga.org/files/public/Jones_Act_Waver_9-05.pdf
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ U.S. Gulf Gasoline Increases After Jones Act Is Suspended Bloomberg, Nov 2, 2012
  14. ^ US issues blanket Jones Act waiver for fuel tankers after Sandy Reuters, Nov 2, 2012

Further reading

  • Sethi, ArjunThe Merchant Marine Act of 1920: The Impact on American Labor (2005).


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