The growth of interest in ship preservation and maritime history is leading to a new sea-awareness among Americans.
But what about the continuities of that history? I’d like to have two bits for every time someone has said to me, in reference to my career in the merchant marine: “Oh, you were in the Marines?”
“The merchant marine,” I explain. To explain what that is takes some doing. For the sake of the old-timers who’ve had ships torpedoed out from under them,
and had friends and shipmates freeze to death in Arctic waters, who kept our ships going when the nation’s existence depended on them,
it seems worth trying to explain how American merchant ships work in seaborne commerce. Today the merchant marine is in sad shape.
We’re carrying far less of our own commerce than any other maritime nation. Of goods shipped to or from US ports, only 5 percent-one ton out of twenty-is carried in US ships.
That contrasts with 50 percent carried on US bottoms at the end of World War II.
And it contrasts with these percentages of their own commerce carried by their own ships, among other maritime nations:
China-over 30 percent Japan-over 40 percent Norway-over 30 percent Soviet Union-over 50 percent West Germany-20 percent What is the matter with us?
The lack is clearly not in our ability to build competitive ships, nor in our ability to sail them efficiently.
These facts were dramatically confirmed in a ship launching in February this year, when the largest ship ever built in the Western Hemisphere was floated at the Newport News Shipbuilding Co. in Virginia.
Named the UST Atlantic, this Ultra Large Crude Carrier (ULCC) is capable of carrying 390,000 deadweight tons of oil-about 20 times the capacity of a World War II-vintage T-2 tanker. She is 1,187′ long, 228′ in beam, and draws 70′ loaded.
She towers 95′ from keel to maindeck, and her rudder is as tall as a four-story building.
“The job was no tougher, really, than any other,” said a Newport News Shipyard supervisor, “We just had to think bigger.”
The crew of the UST Atlantic numbers just 30 seamen. That’s fewer than it took to man the old T-2 tanker.
And they are delivering enough oil, when refined, to drive 20,000 cars for 50,000 miles, plus enough heating oil to keep 30,000 homes warm for a year,
plus 26 million gallons left over for use in such products as soap, aspirin, clothing and lightbulbs.
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