History of Diesel Displacing Steam in U.S. Merchant Marine

Thank you for the information! Good to hear that the ship is, after all these years, still alive and kicking, that is if required.

That is also the case with the W. Alton Jones mentioned above. She was built in 1956 but still around as far as I know, anyway she was in 2015. The ship was converted to a drill ship, the Ocean Clipper. Unbelievable after 62 years.

Old soldiers never die…

And then also a record breaker!

Diamond Offshore Drilling, Inc. through its wholly owned drilling management subsidiary, Diamond Offshore Team Solutions, Inc. (DOTS), has successfully drilled the world’s deepest water depth turnkey well with its drillship Ocean Clipper. The well, drilled in more than 7,200 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico for Marathon Oil Company, is the sixth deepest water depth well ever drilled worldwide and surpasses the previous turnkey record operation completed by Diamond Offshore’s semisubmersible Ocean Voyager in 1994 in approximately 2,100 feet of water.

I show that the OCEAN CLIPPER was scrapped in 2016. . . .

I sailed on the LIPSCOMB LYKES in 79, that is now operating as the JUPITER. I also sailed on the MAINE in 78. Both pretty impressive ships.

Yes, really nice ships. I was on the ex-Illinois.

I looked but could not find that piece of information. Last report I read was from 2015.

The Drillship Aban Ice, (ex Falcon Ice, Deepsea Ice, Danwood Ice) was originally built as a French bulk carrier in 1959, converted to Drillship in 1975 and still going strong:

She picked up another 3-year contract last year and is operating for ONGC off India:

Here is a picture of her working in the Gulf of Bintuni, West Papua back in the mid-1990’s:

Hmm, what’s with the sudden outburst of nostalgia for these old ships still in service? Coming from quarters usually associated with condemning the average age of specific US flag ships. And engaged in the treacherous oil and gas exploration segment no less.

Just kidding boyz. Time to bunker me some of that nice low sulfur MGO on my own ancient ship still in service.


I’m a truck driving fool from the old school and I ain’t never been passed.

meant wrt fast ship, not being overtaken.

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In the 1980’s I spent a few years on the Puerto Rican run on several of SeaLand’s old converted C4’s. More than once while nearing San Juan one of the RO-RO’s operated by then Puerto Rico Marine (later by Tote) would blow by us like we were standing still and grab our pilot time. Things changed after the ex-US Lines ships SeaLand got replaced the C4’s. We were set for a timed arrival in San Juan when one of them RO-RO’s appeared on the horizon. The Captain called me and basically said I don’t care what you do or how you do it but don’t let that thing pass us. We cranked her up and the race was on. After about 8 hours they eased off and conceded to a pilot time after us.


can we please get back to the topic of this thread…why did the US stick to steam for so long when the rest of the maritime world had already gone to slow speed diesels? and why did the US basically scrap all its slow speed diesel building ability shortly after WWII never ever to restore it?

I say it was the US Navy!

Yup… gas turbine development is probably a big factor.

I think that Americans stuck to steam so long because they like large power, high speed and big sizes, it seems to be in there genes or bloodstream. And of course they also like to show off a bit. That probably explains why so many Americans love so much to drive in massive pickup trucks with 420 Hp engines often just to run an errand.

Aussies are somewhat like Americans, they also like to show off and stunt every now and then.

This is a great data base. It does require a small subscription, but, in my view, well worth it if you are an information junkie. . . . . and I am. . . https://www.miramarshipindex.nz/


Also consider who manufactured steam turbines, reduction gears, and boilers vs slow speed diesels. Sending license money to a furriner who doesn’t make campaign contributions vs big bucks to defense contractors just might have had something to do with it.

The U.S. had a system during WWII that combined the government (MARAD) the military and industry. In the 70s it unraveled. Mostly due to changing technology and oil prices.

A similar thing happened to the U,S, auto industry with regards to failure to respond to changes in oil prices and markets.

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Cheap fuel was the primary cause. When I first learned to drive gas was around 30 cents a gallon. Does anyone remember the “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” ads where the motorcycle would pull into a gas station and fill the tank for a quarter? That quickly changed during OPEC’s first oil embargo. The handwriting was put on the wall then.

SeaLand’s SL7’s were built with cheap fuel as a continued given. They burned 4000 barrels a day when up to speed. They would not have done so if they had looked into the crystal ball and realized what was coming down the road. Like the US car manufacturers, it was a paradigm shift that caught most US companies off guard. The sign posts there for a while as the US’s oil production was in decline at that time.


Given the capital intensive nature of the maritime business most companies are very conservative and reluctant to venture into what they are not familiar with. US companies had a long history with steam. This lead to a shortage of diesel licenses as a consequence. There were a lot of 90 day wonder crossover motor licenses cranked out in the 80’s.

Operation of a motorship in the engineroom AND the bridge requires a different mindset.


That is true. In hindsight I admire the Dutch engineers who were used to double piston Doxford and other diesel engines, with no steam or boiler experience whatsoever, how they managed to switch to that steam beast on the W. Alton Jones and that with a very short training.

In the bridge department we had one captain who had to be replaced because he could not get accustomed to the speed of 21 knots. He was used to ships doing only 10 - 12 knots, the slow boat to China, and now this, almost the double speed. He used to say: “Imagine a 21 knot ship and no brake!”. We young officers could not believe our ears, what no brake? In the mess room his statement was imitated, he had a funny sounding voice, over and over again… He was right in some way as a turbine engine had, we were told, only one third of the turbine power in reverse.

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Steamships do have one advantage and that is their operational flexibility (rpm wise).

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The brakes on a low-speed diesel don’t work so hot either. In normal operations, for example to do an astern test, we wait for the prop to stop freewheeling before we try to start the engine astern. Otherwise the starting air doesn’t have enough power to start. The prop stops spinning at about 6 kts, so no astern bell above 6 kts. Dead slow is 7 kts.

I’m told that the emergency full astern uses a different sequence to start the engine, don’t recall the details but supposedly the engine will start astern at speed. I’ve also been advised not to ever do it if there is any other alternative.