In the First World War, the lack of personnel to man merchant ships led to the militarization of commercial ships under the Navy. In , to prevent a similar occurrence, the US Maritime Service was formed to train the necessary mariners to sail the fleet built by the Maritime Commission. In , the War Shipping Administration managed all American merchant ships and utilized commercial firms as agents to operate the ships and work alongside the military in transporting the Arsenal of Democracy to the battlefield.
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In the Cold War, a third Battle of the Atlantic was envisioned with American merchant ships once again braving the passage but this time facing Soviet nuclear submarines. Yet, fifteen years later, while the Navy remained the largest and most powerful in the world, the merchant marine began its decline. When the war ended a decade later, the merchant marine had fallen five more places, with Greece, Panama, France, Italy, and the Soviet Union eclipsing the U.
In and again in , the US called upon an ever-dwindling commercial fleet down to and the vessels, respectively , an aging reserve fleet, an uncertain commercial marketplace to meet its military needs, and many hesitant shippers not willing to risk their ships in a war zone.
Today, the Military Sealift Command would meet a contingency with a finite fleet of ships. First to sail would be the two prepositioning squadrons from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and the other from the Marianas. These squadrons include a mix of government-owned ships and those chartered from the merchant marine.
The eight Fast Sealift Ships, which provided key support in past conflicts were built in the early s. These vessels require mariners to bring them out of their reduced operating status and to crew them for an in-determent amount of time. According to the heads of the U. Transportation Command and the Maritime Administration, there are currently insufficient numbers of qualified mariners, particularly in the more senior levels, to man all the ships for such a contingency.
Finally, to sustain the forces overseas requires, the military, principally the U. Transportation Command, would utilize commercial shipping firms to funnel over sustainment supplies, ammunition, and fuel. With less than ships in the ocean-going American merchant marine, largely maintained by operating either in the coastal trade and protected by the Jones Act , operating internationally by transporting government preference cargo, or receiving funding so as to maintain themselves if needed for war the Maritime Security Program , the merchant marine would be hard pressed to sustain an operation the size and scale of Korea, Vietnam, or the Persian Gulf War, let alone a world war.
Since the World Wars, American merchant ships have operated under the shield of the U. In only a few instances, have commercial ships found themselves at the mercy of an enemy — such as running the gauntlet of the Rung Sat to Saigon in the Vietnam War or tankers in the Persian Gulf in the late s.
In , when MV Maersk Alabama was seized by Somali pirates, the Navy responded with a destroyer, amphibious assault ship, a frigate, and Navy SEALs to free the master of the vessel, while ships flying foreign flags languished off the shores of Somalia waiting for ransoms to be paid. While the U. Navy is the most powerful force afloat, its assets are finite. With eleven battlegroups and a similar number of amphibious ready groups, the 22 cruisers, 66 destroyers, and 12 littoral combat ships are enough to protect them, but little remain for commerce escort.
By allocating two cruisers to each battlegroup, removing destroyers assigned to ballistic missile defense, and spreading the rest among the carrier and amphibious groups, the merchant ships would be left with littoral combat ships, which are equipped more for point rather than area defense, once they are fully operational and integrated into the fleet.
If the nation is serious about being a true maritime power, then it requires not only a viable Navy, but also a commercial fleet. This means continued support for the Jones Act is not out of the ordinary as many claim, but necessary to ensure that a fleet of American-built, American-owned, and American-operated ships is available to support the nation, and their crews. The Maritime Security Program provides for sixty commercial ships to sustain American forces overseas. The debate should not be whether we need the Jones Act, the Maritime Security Program, or Cargo Preference, but how should they be sustained and expanded.
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This allowed the cadets to relieve seasoned mariners so that they could be dispatched to the Middle East and Southwest Asia. In addition, the maritime academies were asked to release cadets to their respective regional U. S shipyards to break out ships for the war effort. These cadets attended class during the day and then spent the afternoons and evenings in shipyards helping to break out ships.
The RRF is a reserve fleet of ships owned by the U. Merchant Mariners. The MSP fleet generally consists of international companies that register and domicile part of their business operations under U.
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Department of Defense protocols and are required to crew their vessels with U. Additionally, U. Over the past two decades the U. Merchant Marine and its Jones Act companies have responded effectively to every major maritime-accessible conflict and disaster that challenged the United States.
By way of example, following the Sept. There was no way out except to swim or find a boat. The U. Merchant Marine went to work. In less than nine hours, Jones Act companies rearranged their voyages and sent vessels straight to the island of Manhattan.
Hundreds of thousands of people were rescued and taken to safety by Jones Act ships, mariners and companies. It was largest boat lift evacuation in history — moving more people by boat than in the evacuation of Dunkirk, France. This hurricane season has been no different, and the Merchant Marine is on duty. Crowley Maritime dispatched more than 18 Jones Act petroleum vessels loaded with gasoline and diesel to Florida ports in response to fuel shortages and evacuations caused by Hurricane Irma. The volume is enough to fill the tanks of more than 7 million vehicles.
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Crowley delivered nearly , pounds of food, water and tarp materials in the wake of Irma and began pre-supplying the island in advance of Hurricane Maria. The vessel was loaded with FEMA containers, vehicles, and other stores. Among the cargo was a replacement radar system for the Federal Aviation Administration. The Kennedy will remain onsite in Puerto Rico to provide power, food, clean water and berthing to first responders. It is capable of housing more than people.