Dakotan was built by the Maryland Steel Company as one of eight sister ships for the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company, and was employed in inter-coastal service via the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the Panama Canal after it opened. During World War I, as USAT Dakotan, the ship carried cargo and animals to France. Dakotan was in the first American convoy to sail to France after the United States entered the war in April 1917. In Navy service, USS Dakotan carried cargo to France and returned over 8,800 American troops after the Armistice.
After her Navy service ended in 1919, she was returned to her original owners and resumed relatively uneventful cargo service over the next twenty years. Dakotan ran aground off the coast of Mexico in 1923 but was freed and towed to port for repairs. Early in World War II, the ship was requisitioned by the War Shipping Administration and transferred to the Soviet Union under the terms of Lend-Lease in December 1942. Sailing as SS Zyrianin, the ship remained a part of the Soviet merchant fleet into the late 1960s.
Dakotan (Maryland Steel yard no. 125) was the second ship built under the original contract. She was launched on 10 August 1912, and delivered to American-Hawaiian in November. Dakotan was , and was in length and abeam. She had a deadweight tonnage of and a storage capacity of . Dakotan had a single steam engine powered by oil-fired boilers that drove a single screw propeller at a speed of . The steamer had accommodations for 18 officers, 40 crewmen, and could carry up to 16 passengers.
At the time of the United States occupation of Veracruz on 21 April 1914, Dakotan was in port at Coatzacoalcos. There she loaded 127 American refugees from sugar plantations in the area and steamed to Veracruz. As a consequence of the American action, the Huerta-led Mexican government closed the Tehuantepec National Railway to American shipping.
In early May, The New York Times reported that Dakotan had sailed to Cristóbal to load a cargo of sugar that originally slated to cross via Tehuantepec. According to the article, the sugar was to be loaded on barges and taken through the still-unopened Panama Canal, where it was planned to be loaded onto Dakotan. There was no indication in the newspaper whether this was successful or not, but it is known that American-Hawaii returned to its historic route of sailing cargo around South America via the Straits of Magellan after Tehuantepec was closed but before the canal opened.
With the opening of the Panama Canal on 15 August, American-Hawaiian ships switched to taking that route. In early September, American-Hawaiian announced that Dakotan would sail on a route from New York via the canal to San Francisco and either Seattle or Tacoma. When landslides closed the canal in October 1915, all American-Hawaiian ships, including Dakotan, returned to the Straits of Magellan route again.
In 1916, Dakotan was one of several American-Hawaiian cargo ships chartered by the DuPont Nitrate Company to carry sodium nitrate from Chile to the United States. Dakotan and the other cargo ships in this South American service would typically deliver loads of coal, gasoline, or steel in exchange for the sodium nitrate. In May, The Christian Science Monitor reported on what may have been a typical delivery for Dakotan. The ship had left Tocopilla with 91,872 bags—about —of sodium nitrate for use in making explosives, and, after transiting the newly reopened Panama Canal, arrived in Philadelphia.
Before any troop transportation could be undertaken, all of the ships had to be hastily refitted. Of the fourteen ships, four, including Dakotan and Montanan, were designated to carry animals and cargo; the other ten were designated to carry human passengers. The four ships designated to carry animals had to have ramps and stalls built. All the ships had to have gun platforms installed, before each ship docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to have the guns themselves installed. All the ships were manned by merchant officers and crews but carried two U.S. Navy officers, Navy gun crews, quartermasters, signalmen, and wireless operators. The senior Navy officer on board would take control if a ship came under attack.
The American convoy carrying the first units of the American Expeditionary Force was broken into four groups; Dakotan was in the fourth group with her sister ship Montanan, Army transports and , and escorts consisting of cruiser , U.S. Navy transport , and destroyers , , and . Dakotan departed with her group on the morning of 17 June for Brest, France, steaming at an pace. A thwarted submarine attack on the first convoy group, and reports of heavy submarine activity off of Brest resulted in a change in the convoy's destination to Saint-Nazaire.
Dakotan departed Saint-Nazaire on 14 July in the company of her convoy mates El Occidente, Montanan, and Edward Luckenbach. Joining the return trip were Army transport , Navy armed collier , Navy oiler , and cruiser , the flagship of Rear Admiral Albert Gleaves, the head of the Navy's Cruiser and Transport Force.
Sources do not reveal Dakotan's movements over the next months, but on 6 September 1917, Naval Armed Guardsmen aboard Dakotan shelled a German submarine after the U-boat's periscope had been seen. On 29 January 1919, Dakotan was transferred to the Navy and commissioned the same day with Lieutenant Commander J. Simmons, USNRF, in command. Outfitted to serve as a troop transport to return American servicemen from Europe, Dakotan made five transatlantic roundtrips to France as part of the Navy's Cruiser and Transport Force between 15 February and 20 July. Eastbound journeys entailed delivering cargo to Saint-Nazaire and Bordeaux for the Army of Occupation; westbound trips returned soldiers to the United States. Dakotan carried a total of 8,812 troops on her five westbound voyages. Dakotan returned from her final voyage on 20 July, was decommissioned at New York on 31 July, and returned to American-Hawaiian the same day.
In 1933, two members of Dakotan's crew had medical emergencies that received news coverage. The first, in February, involved a seaman with an abdominal disorder. He was transferred from the eastbound Dakotan to the Dollar Line ocean liner which carried him to Los Angeles to receive medical attention. The second occurred in July when Dakotan's quartermaster came down with appendicitis near Balboa. Radio calls for assistance brought the U.S. Navy's Destroyer Division 7 to Dakotan's aid. The destroyer unit's medical officer boarded Dakotan and performed an appendectomy on the man, who was too ill to be moved off the ship.
Zyrianin was operated by the Far East Shipping Company (FESCO) from 1943 to 1957. From 1957, she was operated by the Black Sea Shipping Company. The ship was written off and scrapped in 1969.