The first confirmed landing in the continental US was by a Spaniard, Juan Ponce de León, who landed in 1513 at a lush shore he christened La Florida. The Spanish sent some settlers, creating the first permanent European settlement in the continental United States at St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565 and later Santa Fe, New Mexico, San Antonio, Tucson, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Most Spanish settlements were along the California coast or the Santa Fe River in New Mexico.
The first successful English colony was established in 1607, on the James River at Jamestown. It languished for decades until a new wave of settlers arrived in the late 17th century and set up commercial agriculture based on tobacco. The connection between the American colonies and Europe, with shipping as its cornerstone, would continue to grow unhindered for almost two hundred years.
In need of critical supplies, they were given the ultimatum that they either load up ships with lumber to be brought to Boston to make British barracks and receive their much needed supplies or go hungry. If they complied with this order from Lieutenant Moore of the British Navy they betrayed the American cause so they chose to fight.
After word reached Boston of this, the Continental Congress and the various colonies issued Letters of Marque to privately owned, armed merchant ships known as privateers, which were outfitted as warships to prey on enemy merchant ships. They interrupted the British supply chain all along the eastern seaboard of the United States and across the Atlantic Ocean and the Merchant Marine's role in war began. This predates both the United States Coast Guard (1790) and the United States Navy (1797). During the American Revolution, American ships came under the aegis of France due to a 1778 Treaty of Alliance between the two countries.
Also in 1784, Boston navigators sailed to the Pacific Northwest and opened the U.S. fur trade.
In 1785, the Dey of Algiers took two American ships hostage and demanded US$60,000 in ransom for their crews. Then-ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson argued that conceding the ransom would only encourage more attacks. His objections fell on the deaf ears of an inexperienced American government too riven with domestic discord to make a strong show of force overseas. The U.S. paid Algiers the ransom, and continued to pay up to $1 million per year over the next 15 years for the safe passage of American ships or the return of American hostages. Payments in ransom and tribute to the privateering states amounted to 20 percent of United States government annual revenues in 1800.
Jefferson continued to argue for cessation of the tribute, with rising support from George Washington and others. With the recommissioning of the American navy in 1794 and the resulting increased firepower on the seas, it became more and more possible for America to say "no", although by now the long-standing habit of tribute was hard to overturn. A largely successful undeclared war with French privateers in the late 1790s showed that American naval power was now sufficient to protect the nation's interests on the seas. These tensions led to the First Barbary War in 1801.
In 1790, federal legislation was enacted pertaining to seamen and desertion. In 1796, federal legislation regarding Seaman's Protection Certificates was enacted. Immediately after the Revolutionary War the brand-new United States of America was struggling to stay financially afloat. National income was desperately needed and a great deal of this income came from import tariffs. Because of rampant smuggling, the need was immediate for strong enforcement of tariff laws, and on August 4, 1790 the United States Congress, urged on by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, created the Revenue-Marine, later renamed Revenue Cutter Service in 1862. It would be the responsibility of the new Revenue-Marine to enforce the tariff and all other maritime laws.
Although tangential to American maritime history, 1799 saw the fall of a colossus of the world's maritime history. The Dutch East India Company, established on March 20, 1602, when the Estates-General of the Netherlands granted it a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia, formerly the world's largest company, became bankrupt, partly due to the rise of competitive free trade.
During the wars with France (1793 to 1815) the Royal Navy aggressively reclaimed British deserters on board ships of other nations, both by halting and searching merchant ships, and in many cases, by searching American port cities. The Royal Navy did not recognize naturalized American citizenship, treating anyone born a British subject as "British" — as a result, the Royal Navy impressed over 6,000 sailors who were claimed as American citizens as well as British subjects. This was one of the major factors leading to the War of 1812 in North America.
Commercial whaling in the United States was the center of the world whaling industry during the 18th and 19th centuries and was most responsible for the severe depletion of a number of whale species. New Bedford, Massachusetts and Nantucket Island were the primary whaling centers in the 1800s. In 1857, New Bedford had 329 registered whaling ships.
Robert Fulton ordered a Boulton and Watt steam engine, and built what he called the North River Steamboat (often mistakenly described as the Clermont ). In 1807 this steamboat began a regular passenger boat service between New York City and Albany, New York, 240 km (150 miles) distant, which was a commercial success. In 1808 John and James Winans built Vermont in Burlington, Vermont, the second steamboat to operate commercially. In 1809, Accommodation, built by the Hon. John Molson at Montreal, and fitted with engines made in that city, was running successfully between Montreal and Quebec, being the first steamer on the St. Lawrence and in Canada. The experience of both vessels showed that the new system of propulsion was commercially viable, and as a result its application to the more open waters of the Great Lakes was next considered. That idea went on hiatus, due to the War of 1812, however.
As a result of rising tensions with Great Britain, a number of laws collectively known as the Embargo Act of 1807 were enacted. Britain and France were at war; the U.S. was neutral and trading with both sides. Both sides tried to hinder American trade with the other. Jefferson's goal was to use economic warfare to secure American rights, instead of military warfare. Initially, these acts sought to punish Great Britain for its violation of American rights on the high seas; among these was the impressment of those sailors off American ships, sailors who claimed to be American citizens but not in the opinion or to the satisfaction of the Royal Navy, ever on the outlook for deserters. The later Embargo Acts, particularly those of 1807-1808 period, were passed in an attempt to stop Americans, and American communities, that sought to, or were merely suspected of possibility wanting to, defy the embargo. These Acts were ultimately repealed at the end of Jefferson's second, and last, term. A modified version of these Acts would return for a brief time in 1813 under the presidential administration of Jefferson's successor, James Madison.
Clippers were built for seasonal trades such as tea, where an early cargo was more valuable, or for passenger routes. The small, fast ships were ideally suited to low-volume, high-profit goods, such as spices, tea, people, and mail. The values could be spectacular. The Challenger returned from Shanghai with "the most valuable cargo of tea and silk ever to be laden in one bottom." The competition among the clippers was public and fierce, with their times recorded in the newspapers. The ships had low expected lifetimes and rarely outlasted two decades of use before they were broken up for salvage. Given their speed and maneuverability, clippers frequently mounted cannon or carronade and were often employed as pirate vessels, privateers, smuggling vessels, and in interdiction service.
In 1832, Secretary of the Treasury Louis McLane ordered in writing for revenue cutters to conduct winter cruises to assist mariners in need, and Congress made the practice an official part of regulations in 1837. This was the beginning of the lifesaving mission that the later U.S. Coast Guard would be best known for worldwide. The side-wheel paddle steamer SS Great Western was the first purpose-built steamship to initiate regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic crossings, starting in 1838.
Decline in the use of clippers started with the economic slump following the Panic of 1857 and continued with the gradual introduction of the steamship. Although clippers could be much faster than the early steamships, clippers were ultimately dependent on the vagaries of the wind, while steamers could reliably keep to a schedule. The steam clipper was developed around this time, and had auxiliary steam engines which could be used in the absence of wind. An example of this type was the Royal Charter, built in 1857 and wrecked on the coast of Anglesey in 1859.
In 1859, the "Memphis and St. Louis Packet Line," which would later become the Anchor Line was formed, principally providing service to these two cities and points in between. The Anchor line was a steamboat company that operated a fleet of boats on the Mississippi River between St. Louis, Missouri, and New Orleans, Louisiana, between 1859 and 1898, when it went out of business. It was one of the most well-known, if not successful, pools of steamboats formed on the lower Mississippi River in the decades following the American Civil War.
. In 1915, the Seamen's Act of 1915 became law. The act fundamentally changed the life of the American sailor. Among other things, it:
President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the act to create the United States Coast Guard on January 28, 1915. This Act effectively combined the Revenue Cutter Service with the Lifesaving Service and formed the new United States Coast Guard. Gradually the Coast Guard would grow to incorporate the United States Lighthouse Service in 1939 and the Navigation and Steamboat Inspection Service in 1942.
By 1915, Germany was attempting to use submarines to maintain a naval blockade of Britain by sinking cargo ships, including many passenger vessels. Submarines, however, depending on stealth and incapable of withstanding a direct attack by a surface ship (possibly a Q-ship disguised as a merchant ship), found it difficult to give warning before attacking or to rescue survivors, which meant that civilian death tolls were high. This was a major factor in galvanizing neutral opinion against the Central Powers, as countries like the United States suffered casualties and loss to their trade, and was one of the causes of the eventual entry of the US into the war.
Over time, the use of defended convoys of merchant ships allowed the Allies to maintain shipping across the Atlantic, in spite of heavy loss. The Royal Navy had conducted convoys in the Napoleonic Wars and they had been used effectively to protect troopships in the current war, but the idea of using them to protect merchant shipping had been debated for several years. Nobody was sure if convoys were Britain's salvation or ruin. Consolidating merchant ships into convoys might just provide German U-boats with a target-rich environment, and packing ships together might lead to collisions and other accidents. It was potentially a logistical nightmare as well, and allied officers judged it too much so.
With the ability to replace losses, the dilemma of using convoys was not as painful. After experiments through the early months of 1917 that proved successful, the first formal convoys were organized in late May. By the autumn the convoy system had become very well organized, and losses for ships in convoy fell drastically, with 2% losses for ships in convoy compared to 10% losses for ships traveling on their own. The convoy loss rate dropped to 1% in October. However, convoy was not mandatory, and monthly loss rates did not fall below their 1916 levels until August 1918.
The need for administering the merchant marine during wartime was demonstrated during the First World War. Commerce warfare, carried on by submarines and merchant raiders, had a disastrous effect on the Allied merchant fleet. With the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917, U-boats sank ships faster than replacements could be built.
West Coast sailors deserted ships in support of the International Longshoremen's Association longshoremen, leaving more than 50 ships idle in the San Francisco harbor. ISU officials reluctantly supported this strike. In clashes with the police between July 3 and July 5 1934, three picketers were killed and \"scores were injured.\" During negotiations to end the strike, the sailors received concessions including a three-watch system, pay increases, and better living conditions. In April 1935 at a conference of maritime unions in Seattle, an umbrella union was established to represent the membership of the ISU as well as maritime officers and longshoremen, which was named the Maritime Federation, Harry Lundeberg was named its first president. He was also named Secretary-Treasurer of SUP.
The merchant marine in the United States was in a state of decline in the mid-1930s. At that time few ships were being built, existing ships were old and inefficient, maritime unions were at war with one another, ship owners were at odds with the unions, and the crews’ efficiency and morale were at an ebb. Congress took action to fix the problems in 1936. The Merchant Marine Act, approved on June 29, 1936, created the U.S. Maritime Commission "to further the development and maintenance of an adequate and well balanced American merchant marine, to promote the commerce of the United States, and to aid in the national defense."
The commission realized that a trained merchant marine work force was vital to the national interest. At the request of Congress, the chairman of the Maritime Commission, VADM Emory S. Land worked with ADM Russell R. Waesche, Commandant of the Coast Guard, to formulate a training program for merchant-marine personnel. Called the U.S. Maritime Service, the new training program was inaugurated in 1938. It used a combination of civilian Maritime Commission and uniformed Coast Guard instructors to advance the professional training of merchant mariners.
Believing it was time to abandon the conservative ISU, Curran began recruiting members for a new rival union. The level of organizing was so intense that hundreds of ships delayed sailing as seamen listened to organizers and signed union cards. The ISU's official publication, The Seamen's Journal, suggested Curran's "sudden disenchantment" with the ISU was odd, since he'd only been a "member of the union for one year during his seafaring career."
In May 1937, Curran and other leaders of his Seamen's Defense Committee reconstituted the group as the National Maritime Union. Holding its first convention in July, approximately 30,000 seamen switched their membership from the ISU to the NMU and Curran was elected president of the new organization. Within a year, the NMU had more than 50,000 members and most American shippers were under contract.
The United States intended to meet this crisis with large numbers of mass-produced freighters and transports. When World War II loomed, the Maritime Commission began a crash shipbuilding program utilizing every available resource. The experienced shipyards built complicated vessels, such as warships. New shipyards, which opened almost overnight around the country, generally built less sophisticated ships such as the emergency construction "Liberty ships". By 1945 the shipyards had completed more than 2,700 "Liberty" ships and hundreds of "Victory ships", tankers and transports.
All of these new ships needed trained officers and crews to operate them. The Coast Guard provided much of the advanced training for merchant marine personnel to augment the training of state merchant marine academies. The Maritime Commission requested that the Coast Guard provide training in 1938 when the Maritime Service was created. Merchant sailors from around the country trained at two large training stations. On the East Coast the men trained at Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut, and Government Island in Alameda, California served the West Coast. In 1940 Hoffman Island in New York Harbor became the third training station for the service. After the start of the war other training stations were added in Boston, Port Hueneme, California, and St. Petersburg, Florida.
Training ships manned by the Coast Guard included the Maritime Commission steamships American Seaman, American Mariner, and American Sailor. One of these ships, the 7,000-gross-ton American Seaman, carried 250 trainees in addition to the regular crew of 18 officers and 100 enlisted men. Four complete machine shops, various lifeboats and up-to-date navigational equipment comprised the special educational equipment. In addition the Coast Guard manned the full-rigged sail training ships Tusitala and Joseph Conrad, as well as the auxiliary schooner Vema. The Tusitala was built in Greenock, Scotland in 1883 and operated in merchant service before becoming a receiving ship in St. Petersburg in 1940. The Joseph Conrad sailed from Jacksonville, Florida to train apprentice seamen. The training ships were important commands. These steamships were the largest ships manned by the service prior to the Coast Guard joining the Navy in World War II. CDR Alfred C. Richmond, who commanded the American Sailor, the first Maritime Service training ship, later became Commandant of the Coast Guard.
Licensed and unlicensed merchant marine personnel enrolled in the service. The ranks, grades, and ratings for the Maritime Service were based on those of the Coast Guard. Training for experienced personnel lasted three months; while inexperienced personnel trained for six months. Pay was based on the person’s highest certified position in merchant service. New students received cadet wages. American citizens at least 19 years old, with one year of service on American merchant vessels of more than 500 gross tons, were eligible for enrollment. Coast Guard training of merchant mariners was vital to winning the war. Thousands of the sailors who manned the new American merchant fleet trained under the watchful eyes of the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard only continued the administration of the Maritime Service for ten months after the United States entered the war. Merchant marine training and most aspects of merchant marine activity transferred to the newly created War Shipping Administration on September 1, 1942. The transfer allowed the Coast Guard to take a more active role in the war and concentrated government administration of the merchant marine in one agency. However, Just as the transfer removed the merchant marine training role from the Coast Guard, the service assumed the role of licensing seamen and inspecting merchant vessels.
The Atlantic Ocean was a major strategic battle zone during World War II (Second Battle of the Atlantic) and when Germany declared war on the US, the East Coast offered easy pickings for German U-Boats (referred to as the Second happy time). After a highly successful foray by five Type IX long-range U-boats, the offensive was maximized by the use of short-range Type VII U-boats, with increased fuel stores, replenished from supply U-boats or \\"Milchkuh\\". In February to May, 1942, 348 ships were sunk, for the loss of 2 U-boats during April and May. U.S. naval commanders were reluctant to introduce the convoy system that had protected trans-Atlantic shipping and, without coastal blackouts, shipping was silhouetted against the bright lights of American towns and cities.
Once convoys and air cover were introduced, sinking numbers were reduced and the U-boats shifted to attack shipping in the Gulf of Mexico, with 121 losses in June. In one instance, the tanker Virginia was torpedoed in the mouth of the Mississippi River by the German U-Boat U-507 on May 12, 1942, killing 26 crewmen. There were 14 survivors. Again, when defensive measures were introduced, ship sinkings decreased and U-boat sinkings increased.
The cumulative effect of this campaign was severe; a quarter of all wartime sinkings—3.1 million tons. There were several reasons for this. The naval commander, Admiral Ernest King, was averse to taking British recommendations to introduce convoys, U.S. Coast Guard and Navy patrols were predictable and could be avoided by U-boats, poor inter-service co-operation, and the U.S. Navy did not possess enough suitable escort vessels (British and Canadian warships were transferred to the U.S. east coast).
It came to a head in the middle of the war with the writing of a column in the New York World-Telegram by Pegler, who alleged that merchant seamen refused to work on Sundays per union rules, causing sick USMC servicemen to unload their own supplies in an incident off Guadalcanal. He went on to say that these seamen received \\"fabulous pay for sailors, including overtime bonuses, whereas the navy men draw only the modest pay for their ratings without extras.\\" This was a specific allegation, and in February, 1943, the National Maritime Union, representing seven other unions, filed suit for libel against Hearst Newspapers, publisher of the newspaper, and the Associated Press for its wide dissemination of what was claimed to be an untrue story. As part of their suit, they pointed out that Government allotments for families, low-rate premiums on insurance, hospitalization, dental care, pension, and civil service rating consideration tend to balance the pay of ordinary seamen in civilian service. But they denied the incident ever took place, and were backed by a report of Admiral William F. Halsey, commander of United States forces in the South Pacific, to the Navy Department in which Halsey praised the \\"co-operation, efficiency and courage\\" of the merchant seamen and asserted that \\"In no instance have merchant marine seamen refused to discharge cargo from their vessels or in any other way failed to co-operate with the United States forces ashore in that (South Pacific) area.\\" They won their suit, but the residual effect would last for decades.
What was ignored, say the Seafarers' International Union, was the fact that seamen are paid by the ship owner for their work, consequently they were paid only while the ships were in the water. A seaman torpedoed off his ship was off the payroll the minute he was injured, landed in a lifeboat or hit the water. Surviving seamen had to beg, borrow, plead or work their way back to the United States from places such as Murmansk, Russia, so they could be reassigned to another ship. Until that happened, they weren't paid. And in addition they would be drafted if they didn't find another ship within 30 days. Their wartime record reveals that their losses were among the highest of any group in the front lines. They died at a rate of 1 in 24. All told, 733 American cargo ships were lost and 8,651 of the 215,000 who served perished on troubled waters and off enemy shores.
The biggest supporter of the merchant men was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was he who in 1936 urged the United States Congress to pass the Merchant Marine Act, which established a 10-year program for building ships that would be used for commerce during peace time and would be converted for use by the Navy during times of war or national emergency; and a training program for seamen that linked them to the military in wartime, specifically the Navy. It was this legislation that enabled the country to take on the axis powers a few years later, but not before extensive losses on the East coast, which was crawling with German submarines by the end of 1941. That year the Germans sank 1,232 Allied and neutral ships worldwide, including those manned by the Merchant Marine, and the following year was even worse. The Allies would lose 1,323 ships, while Germany's submarine losses totaled just 87. More than 1,000 merchant seamen would die within sight of the East Coast, and it wasn't uncommon for inhabitants of the seashore to find their bodies washed up on the sand.
Roosevelt, while the war was under way, proclaimed \\"Mariners have written one of its most brilliant chapters. They have delivered the goods when and where needed in every theater of operations and across every ocean in the biggest, the most difficult and dangerous job ever undertaken. As time goes on, there will be greater public understanding of our merchant's fleet record during this war.\\"
But it wasn't to be, for with Roosevelt's death in 1945, the Merchant Marine lost its staunchest supporter and any chance to share in the accolades afforded others who served. The War Department, the same government branch that recruited them, opposed the Seaman's Bill of Rights in 1947 (see below) and managed to kill the legislation in congressional committee, effectively ending any chance for seamen to reap the thanks of a nation. For 43 years, the U.S. government denied them benefits ranging from housing to health care until Congress awarded them veterans' status in 1988, too late for 125,000 mariners, roughly half of those who had served.
\\"It's one of the injustices of American history,\\" wrote Brian Herbert, author of \\"The Forgotten Heroes,\\" a book about the Merchant Marine of World War II. \\"These men were torpedoed by their own government after the war.\\" It was, finally, in 2005 that Congress had before it the H.R. 23 bill, the \\"Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act of 2005\\", still waiting to be signed into law by George W. Bush. As a result, those mariners who served in WWII, or their survivors, will receive a benefit of $1,000 per month, and the right to be buried in a National Cemetery \\"which honors veterans with final resting places in national shrines and with lasting tributes that commemorate their service to our nation.\\" Today there are shrine and memorial reminders of mariners' heroism such as The American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial in San Pedro, California, and the American Merchant Mariners Memorial at Battery Park in Lower Manhattan. The old Navy-Marine Memorial in Washington, D.C. honors those who died during World War I.
Since the First World War and World War II, many Merchant Marine officers have also held commissions in the United States Naval Reserve. Graduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy are commissioned into the USNR by default if they do not choose to be commissioned in another service of the armed forces. A special badge, known as the Naval Reserve Merchant Marine Badge, has existed since the early 1940s to recognize such Merchant Marine personnel who are called to active duty in the Navy. World War II USMM were eligible for the following decorations: Merchant Marine War Zone Bars for the Atlantic, Mediterranean-Middle East, Pacific; Mariner's Medal Merchant Marine; Merchant Marine Combat Bar. There was also the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal.
The U.S. Maritime Commission was abolished on 24 May 1950, its functions were split between the U.S. Federal Maritime Board which was responsible for regulating shipping and awarding subsidies for construction and operation of merchant vessels, and Maritime Administration, which was responsible for administering subsidy programs, maintaining the national defense reserve merchant fleet, and operating the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. AMO was chartered on May 12, 1949 as the Brotherhood of Marine Engineers by Paul Hall as an affiliate of the Seafarer's International Union of North America. The original membership consisted entirely of civilian seafaring veterans of World War II.
During the Korean War there were few severe sealift problems other than the need to re-mobilize forces following post-World War II demobilization. About 700 ships were activated from the NDRF for services to the Far East. In addition, a worldwide tonnage shortfall between 1951 and 1953 required the reactivation of over 600 ships to lift coal to Northern Europe and grain to India during the first years of the Cold War. The commercial merchant marine formed the backbone of the bridge of ships across the Pacific. From just six ships under charter when the war began, this total peaked at 255. According to the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS), 85 percent of the dry cargo requirements during the Korean War were met through commercial vessels — only five percent were shipped by air. More than $475 million, or 75 percent of the MSTS operating budget for calendar year 1952, was paid directly to commercial shipping interests. In addition to the ships assigned directly to MSTS, 130 laid-up Victory ships in the NDRF were broken out by the Maritime Administration and assigned under time-charters to private shipping firms for charter to MSTS.
Ships of the MSTS not only provided supplies but also served as naval auxiliaries. When the U.S. Army's X Corps went ashore at Inchon in September 1950, 13 USNS cargo ships, 26 chartered American, and 34 Japanese-manned merchant ships, under the operational control of MSTS, participated in the invasion. Sealift responsibilities were accomplished on short notice during the Korean War. Initially American troops lacked the vital equipment to fight the North Koreans, but military and commercial vessels quickly began delivering the fighting tools needed to turn back the enemy. According to the MSTS, 7 tons of supplies were needed for every Marine or soldier bound for Korea and an additional one for each month thereafter. Cargo ships unloaded supplies around the clock, making Pusan a bustling port. The success of the U.S. Merchant Marine during this crisis hammered home to critics the importance of maritime preparedness and the folly of efforts to scuttle the Merchant Marine fleet. In addition to delivering equipment to American forces — more than 90 percent of all American and other United Nations’ troops — supplies and equipment were delivered to Korea through the MSTS with the assistance of commercial cargo vessels. A bridge of ships, much like in World War II, spanned the Pacific Ocean during the three years of hostilities.
Merchant ships played an important role in the evacuation of United Nations troops from Hungnam, following the Chosin Reservoir campaign. The Merchant Marine and Navy evacuated over 100,000 U.N. troops and another 91,000 Korean refugees and moved 350,000 tons of cargo and 17,500 vehicles in less than two weeks. One of the most famous rescues was performed by the U.S. merchant ship SS Meredith Victory. Only hours before the advancing communists drove the U.N. forces from North Korea in December 1950, the vessel, built to accommodate 12 passengers, carriedmore than 14,000 Korean civilians from Hungnam to Pusan in the south. First mate D. S. Savastio, with nothing but first aid training, delivered five babies during the three-day passage to Pusan. Ten years later, the Maritime Administration honored the crew by awarding them a Gallant Ship Award.
Privately-owned American merchant ships helped deploy thousands of U.S. troops and their equipment, bringing high praise from the commander of U.S. Naval Forces in the Far East, Admiral Charles T. Joy. In congratulating Navy Captain A.F. Junker, Commander of the Military Sea Transportation Service for the western Pacific, Admiral Joy noted that the success of the Korean campaign was dependent on the Merchant Marine. He said, "The Merchant Mariners in your command performed silently, but their accomplishments speak loudly. Such teammates are comforting to work with."
Government owned merchant vessels from the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) have supported emergency shipping requirements in seven wars and crises. During the Korean War, 540 vessels were activated to support military forces. From 1955 through 1964, another 600 ships were used to store grain for the Department of Agriculture. Another tonnage shortfall following the Suez Canal closing in 1956 caused 223 cargo ship and 29 tanker activations from the NDRF.
The BME Welfare Plan was growing at an impressive rate under the care of Director of Welfare and Special Services Ray McKay. In August 1954, he reported its assets to be in excess of $100,000. The plan offered a number of progressive benefits, such as full surgery coverage for members and their families, and full coverage for seeing a physician. In February on 1955, the union began pursuing the "first pension plan ever for U.S. merchant marine officers," which was well underway by November 1955.
In 1955, Joseph Curran was named a Vice-Predident of the AFL-CIO. Due to pressures from the Second Red Scare after World War II the AFL and CIO merged into the AFL-CIO in 1955 under the leadership of John L. Lewis. In 1957, Wilbur Dickey resigned the union's presidency and Ray McKay took the position on January 17, 1957. Later that year, on October 29, 1957, McKay and then-president of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association H.L. Daggett signed an accord leading BME to merge with several MEBA locals. The newly formed entity was known as MEBA's Great Lakes District Local 101. On 28 January, 1957, Harry Lundeberg died. Shortly after, Paul Hall became president of Seafarer's International Union. That year, Raymond McKay became president of American Maritime Officers, which left SIU, and joined MEBA. Also that year, Michael Sacco joined Seafarer's International Union.
During the Vietnam War, ships crewed by civilian seamen carried 95 percent of the supplies used by our Armed Forces. Many of these ships sailed into combat zones under fire. In fact, the SS Mayaguez incident involved the capture of mariners from the American merchant ship SS Mayaguez. The crisis began on May 12, 1975, when Khmer Rouge naval forces operating former U.S. Navy "Swift Boats" seized the American container ship SS Mayagüez in recognized international sea lanes claimed as territorial waters by Cambodia and removed its crew for questioning. Surveillance by P-3 Orion aircraft indicated that the ship was then moved to and anchored at Koh Tang, an island approximately off the southern coast of Cambodia near that country's shared border with Vietnam. Tragically, the ship's crew whose seizure had prompted the US attack had been released in good health, unknown to the US Marines or the US command of the operation, before the Marines attacked. The incident marked the last official battle of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Two RRF tankers, two RO/RO ships and a troop transport ship were needed in Somalia for Operation Restore Hope in 1993 and 1994. During the Haitian crisis in 1994, 15 ships were activated for Operation Uphold Democracy operations. In 1995 and 1996, four RO/RO ships were used to deliver military cargo as part of U.S. and U.K. support to NATO peace-keeping missions. Four RRF ships were activated to provide humanitarian assistance for Central America following Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Three RRF ships currently support the Afloat Prepositioning Force with two specialized tankers and one dry cargo vessel capable of underway replenishment for the Navy’s Combat Logistics Force.
On January 8, 2007, Tom Bethel was appointed by the AMO national executive committee to fulfil the term of former president Michael McKay. The RRF was called upon to provide humanitarian assistance to gulf coast areas following Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita landfalls in August and September, respectively, of 2005. The Federal Emergency Management Agency requested a total of eight vessels to support relief efforts. Messing and berthing was provided for refinery workers, oils spill response teams, longshoremen. One of the vessels provided electrical power.