Why The US Merchant Marine Is Failing

Here are my latest thoughts on the topic:

Here’s the direct contact info of the man to ask if you have any questions.

What are your thoughts?


My thoughts are that MARAD has spent the better part of the last three decades sitting on their hands and cashing US government G13 and above paychecks. They don’t want any press attention because they don’t want to draw attention to the stench of bloat and waste that permeates their hallways. They long ago gave up on doing anything meaningful for the American mariner nor have they done anything to advance the US Merchant Marine which is their stated purpose. It is an absolute joke of a government agency.

I say we nominate John for maritime administrator. At least he’s floating some ideas out there.


When I ask people their thoughts About Adm. Buzby I get two sets of responses. The KP alumni and people who work in government circles say that he’s a great leader and will turn things around.

When I mention him to the other 9/10th of the industry they say “Who is Busby?”.

So let’s give him the benefit of the doubt just for a moment (he is fairly new to the job)… let’s assume it’s not all smoke and mirrors and he actually can lead.

If that’s the case then doesn’t he have to clean house? He’s already demoted Hellis… do you think he’ll put down the axe or keep on swinging??

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I feel like an old angry man when I think of the outlook for the US fleet because there just seems to be so many seemingly insurmountable problems as you pointed out so well in your article. I can write to high-ups to show my support but, as you also said, even if we all were completely full throated in our demand for reform its still such a small portion of the population. Its all well and good to set out all the problems but what can I actually do about it? There are a lot of systemic problems with how the government/companies/unions manage the fleet but I think there is a lot of value in what you said about getting the clout before tackling a lot of those problems. I would love to be doing something to help improve the public visibility of the merchant marine. Just to get to the point where I can tell people what I do and there will be a 50% chance that they will understand. How does that happen? What do other industries do to get their existence across? Form a charity arm? Sponsor events?

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IDK the solution. What I do know is that we are a tiny insignificant drop in the constitute bucket of our local congressman but an overwhelming and powerful majority of the constitutes of a MARAD Administrator.

I haven’t pressed the MARAD before because I didn’t think the previous two Admins had to the ability to do anything concrete. But Buzby’s a different story.

Buzby needs our support to move forward… so let’s givenit to him!! But first we need to set our expectations and second we gotta motivate Buzby to get out in front of mariners!

To do that I say we put on the pressure. Sure we aren’t “supposed” to call up Busby directly, we are “suppose to” call our congressman so they can send us a presigned generic reply letter that really means to say to fuck off. But it’s certainly our right as cotizens to call his phone # and send emails then post here if he gives you a BS reply!

And his direct phone # and personal email is about the worst kept secert in Washington… so I say have at it!

Let’s put the pressure on MARAD… let’s tell them what we want!! And what we want specifically is #1 for him to spend time with real mariners (on docks, aboard ship, at training schools, here on gCaptain… anywhere but inside washington or a KP alumni event) #2 we want MARAD to do their job.

Really that’s it. That’s all we want… MARAD to do their job!!

So instead of wasting you time with your congressmen, waste you time on MARAD and tell him to defend your interests in congress!!

That is… if the good Admiral is capable of getting ship done with our support? The jury is still out on that one but it’s early and I do have faith that he is motivated to spark change.

No, no… I’d just fire everyone in the building and put @Mikey in charge. He’d do a great job and all but I’d feel guilty about collecting a paycheck without ever showing up at the office!

Plus I don’t own a suit or a KP ring :wink:

P.S. for KP Alumni: Those who have been members here for a while know I’m a staunch supporter of KP and have defended the USMMA many times here. I’d like to see KP’s budget double. I don’t care if he Buzby moves into KP alumni hall… as long as he (or the MARAD crew) makes out to visit mariners on the docks and aboard ship!

this subject is worthy of hundreds of replies and I do applaud your effort however you omitted the two single most detrimental factors to maintaining any meaningful US flagged fleet…namely

all the presidents since FDR and every US Congress since 1946

because all of them have allowed the greatest single fleet of merchant ships to fall now for seven decades AND they are the ones who allowed the Maritime Administration go from a vibrant agency of government to a hollow shell of it’s former self with little more that an academy to ensure never dies and custodians of a fleet of very old and very tired surplus ships. Honestly, does MarAd serve any other function today?

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True but how’s that little factoid going to help us get sh!t done today?

it won’t and short of a big war where the US falls flat on its ass with the needed sealift, there will be no significant changes to bring about a vibrant new US fleet. In the 20th Century, only large scale foreign wars have been the touchstone to US maritime vitality…otherwise nobody in Washingtoon gives even two tiny shits

Holy crap batman are you admitting I was right all along??

For how many years did you berate me for refusing to write my congressman due to the fact that it’s a complete waste of time?


indeed but that was before I too became utterly convinced that there is no hope for that meaningful change. Men far bigger than the likes of us have tried and failed so why should we expect our writings to be heard by anyone who cares.

the corruption of the entire system of government is too pervasive to point fingers are all the little fish. they know they can’t change anything themselves so do not waste any of their capital on the effort. only a true leader of a president like FDR could propose a new US Merchant Marine Act like FDR did in 1936 but presidents are not leaders anymore and we can blame both Democrats equally with Republicans for failure to make any effort to stem the hemorrhaging of blood out of our once great fleet and I think it is important to note what while Congress is also a handmaiden to the collapse, it really is the President who is the one needed to step in to prevent it by sending proposals to Congress.

I will close by adding this speech made by FDR when the first Liberty ship, the PATRICK HENRY, was launched


Washington, D. C., Sept. 27, 1941


This is a memorable day in the history of American shipbuilding–a memorable day in the emergency defense of the nation. Today, from dawn to dark, fourteen ships are being launched–on the Atlantic, on the Pacific and on the Gulf and among them is the first Liberty ship, the Patrick Henry.

While we are proud of what we are doing, this is certainly no time to be content. We must build more cargo ships and still more cargo ships–and we must speed the program until we achieve a launching each day, then two ships a day, fulfilling the building program undertaken by the Maritime Commission.

Our shipbuilding program–not only that of the Maritime Commission, but of the Navy–is one of our answers to the aggressors who would strike at our liberty.

I am speaking today not only to the shipworkers in the building yards on our Coasts, on our Great Lakes and on our Rivers–not only to the thousands who are present at today’s launchings–but also to the men and women throughout the country who live far from salt water or shipbuilding.

I emphasize to all of you the simple, historic fact that throughout the period of our American life, going way back into Colonial days, commerce on the high seas and freedom of the seas has been a major reason for our prosperity and the building up of our country.

To give you one simple example: It is a matter of history that a large part of the capital which in the middle of the past century went into the building of railways and spread like a network into the new undeveloped areas across the Mississippi River, across the Plains and up into the Northwest, was money which had been made by American traders whose ships had sailed the seas to the Baltic, to the Mediterranean, to Africa and South America, and to Singapore and China itself.

Through all the years after the American Revolution your Government reiterated and maintained the right of American ships to voyage hither and yon without hindrance from those who sought to keep them off the seas or drive them off the seas. As a nation we have realized that our export trade and our import trade had a definitely good effect on the life of families, not only on our Coasts but on the farms and in the cities a hundred or a thousand miles from salt water.

Since 1936, when the Congress enacted the present Merchant Marine Law, we have been rehabilitating a Merchant Marine which had fallen to a low level. Today we are continuing that program at accelerated speed.

The shipworkers of America are doing a great job. They have made a commendable record for efficiency and speed. With every new ship, they are striking a telling blow at the menace to our nation and the liberty of the free peoples of the world. They struck fourteen such blows today. They have caught the true spirit with which all this nation must be imbued if Hitler and other aggressors of his ilk are to be prevented from crushing us.

We Americans as a whole cannot listen to those few Americans who preach the gospel of fear–who say in effect that they are still in favor of freedom of the seas but who would have the United States tie up our vessels in our ports. That attitude is neither truthful nor honest.

We propose that these ships sail the seas as they are intended to. We propose, to the best of our ability, to protect them from torpedo, from shell or from bomb.

The Patrick Henry, as one of the Liberty ships launched today renews that great patriot’s stirring demand:

“Give me liberty or give me death.”

There shall be no death for America, for democracy, for freedom! There must be liberty, world-wide and eternal. That is our prayer–our pledge to all mankind

imagine that we should have such a President again? never could happen I fear

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Your dead wrong. Somebody at marad heard and decided to post their first ever blog post!


Maybe if I write another article they will start vlogging. :rofl:


If you had more US flagged ships would that constitute a reversal in the failure? We have heaps of UK flagged ships now and the government bang the drum saying it’s a success however there are no Brits on the majority of them. The exception is cadets - there’s a Tonnage Tax exemption if they have UK cadets onboard but once they cease beingcadets they’re out on their ear. So now there’s hundreds of newly qualified officers out of work and hundreds of UK flagged ships manned by non UK sailors.


I recently saw an article somewhere with two interesting factual statements:

  1. A voyage from China to the US East Coast takes 29 days,

  2. A study by the Federal Reserve indicates that the typical cost of shipping goods from China to the US is 3% of wholesale value.

In other words, shipping is fast and very very cheap.

The last time I saw the cost of shipping a container from China to the US or Europe mentioned, it was around $2,500. Thus, a 10,000 TEU ship has the potential to gross $25 million per 30 day voyage.

If a 10,000 TEU ship had 8 American officers at an average total cost of employment (wages, taxes, insurance, vacation an other benefits) of say $30,000 per month, and 20 crewmen at an average of $15,000, totaling $540,000, that comes out to a total crew cost of only $54 per container.

If the container rates are $2500, and the crew costs $54 per container, that’s about 2.2% of transportation costs.

Foreign crews work so pathetically cheap, let’s just assume the cost for a foreign crew is zero. Then an American crew costs $54 per container more.

If transportation costs are only 3% of the wholesale cost of shipping goods from China, and crew costs are only 2.2% of that, then American crew costs would add less than 1l10th of 1% to the wholesale cost of goods delivered to America.

While $54 is a lot more than zero, the cost of an American crew adding only 1/10th of 1% to the wholesale cost ( the contribution to retail cost is much smaller) of goods is trivial to American consumers.

I propose a $100 “homeland security fee” for every container imported. $50 of that to go to a Crew Cost Differential Subsidy” for US flag ships.


Why is the US Merchant Marine Failing? Here’s my take:

  1. Lack of a Sensible / Coherent Merchant Marine Policy
  2. Lack of a Sensible / Coherent Shipbuilding Policy
  3. Government Skirting of Cargo Preference Laws
  4. Excessive Application of Regulations during Inspections by the USCG (just recently)
  5. Excessive Interpretation of STCW Requirements and Training by the USCG
  6. MSC having more vessels than Jones Act vessels.
  7. MSC routinely and continually meddling in and attempting to influence Maritime Labor Costs- to their advantage, against clear cut and established industry standards…
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All excellent points but WHY are these things happening and WHY are we unable to correct them? What are the motivating factors!

We all know what the problems are but WHERE can we apply pressure to fix them?

How are we defining a “failing” merchant marine? Are we going just by ships/tonnage, percent of cargo moved in/out of us, number of jobs? All of your points however are about PR, image and DC infighting.

Your points about PR are extremely valid. Just look at all hand-wringing over the Jones Act causing problems with hurricane relief. If you live/work anywhere around DC you will have continual interjections to your morning traffic report for radio ads touting the latest air refueling tanker that Boeing/LM/NG are trying to sell to congress. Why are they advertising on the radio for that when they have fleets of lobbyists to lobby congress directly? They are trying to build

The DC-centric view of the world is part of the problem. This entire thread has not been so much about the Merchant Marine but about MARAD and congress. I would love to hear from a big US operator who has some US some foreign flag ships why do they truly go foreign? We all have our opinions and I know what would drive me to consider that option but I’ve never heard any of them say explicitly its this regulation or that policy or those effects of profit, etc.

Thanks for the reply John… I am currently putting together what I would consider an intellectual response to the OMB request for comments. I am still gathering facts and figures. All of these points will be covered… I am particularly taken back by 4) and 5). While legislation would be needed for some of these things to be rectified, others will require a full A-76 study to be done of MSC, inclusive of ALL of their crewing costs (training, stand by work in “the pool” and etc) then it will become readily apparent that most if not all of MSC’s non NFAF inventory should be operated by commercial entities. The chartering is another story. We would need more MSP slots to cover the approximate 33% that MSC Foreign Flag Charters to carry oil…

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Thanks for your response Brown, there MUST be a lot of good PR for the US Merchant Marine- in the deep sea as well as inland fleet sectors… Could you imagine the national security risk that foreign nationals would pose transporting on our inland waterways? WOW- the same goes for us supporting our war fighters if we were incapable of supplying them with US Flag Ships…

You know what’s really surprising? Look at the Cruise Blogs, with lot’s of people bashing the Passenger Vessel Services Act and the Jones Act and calling for their repeal…US Citizens in most cases openly advocating for something that would negatively effect their security!

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BTW - That’s supposed to be one of MARAD’s primary jobs… crunching numbers just like this to give to journalists, congress and ship owners.