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Jack Boyd memoirs

by Jack Boyd

edited by Gary Fuhrman and Jonah Winters.
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Chapter 7

Eight Weeks Before the Mast

Memories of working on the crew of an oil tanker in 1957

The romance of the sea has always attracted writers. Classics have been written which will endure forever. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote "The Ancient Mariner". Herman Melville gave us "Moby Dick". In more recent times Nicholas Monserrat wrote "The Cruel Sea". Here now, is a story that has been fifty years in the making, one that only I could tell.


Many families around Scotland have a strong seagoing tradition. My family's sea experience was limited to day trips to Rothsey and Dunoon on the Clyde coast and an hour in a rented rowing boat. I was about to break that mold.

1957 was a year of major events for me. After a big accident on Ben Nevis during the New Year holiday, I was faced with three choices. I could either accept conscription for two years of military service, or spend five years in the merchant navy, or emigrate to either Australia or Canada.

Eileen and I had become engaged in October, 1956 and this was to have a big influence on my choices. As a single guy, I had eagerly anticipated life in the military, with dreams of having all sorts of opportunities to train and run. I had mostly put the athletic part of my life on hold to study for engineering qualifications, but this seemed like a great chance to see what I could accomplish. The four minute mile was within reach for me, if I could only find a cliff that was high enough.

Anyway, to make a short story long, I opted for trying the merchant navy and signed on with the Imperial Oil Company, Esso. It has more recently become Exxon. Within a very short time I had been assigned as Fifth Engineer to a ship, the Esso Manchester. My studies were relevant to the work, but my work experience was almost totally irrelevant. Tool and Die Maker is a fine precision trade, but has nothing whatsoever to do with engines, pumps, fans and boilers. I understood how all these things worked, but I had never seen the inside of them. That was soon fixed by an older friend, who shall remain nameless, who provided me with a reference saying that I had two years of heavy engineering experience, which I hadn't. So here I was, only 22 years old, an officer, holding Part A of a chief engineer's ticket, requiring only 18 months seagoing experience to get Part B and become a full fledged chief engineer. I understand how the Exxon Valdez ran aground and the oil spill happened.

I picked up my handsome officers dress uniform with brass buttons, epaulettes and a gold braided cap. I was bluffing, but I looked the part. Hell, I looked fine, like an admiral in the Swiss Navy. I had to report to my ship in the port of Fawley, near Portsmouth in the south of England, and left Glasgow by train for the big adventure.

The Esso Manchester was a sixteen thousand ton oil tanker with a top speed of sixteen knots, making it one of the faster ships around. The propulsion system was turbo-electric with two Babcock and Wilcox boilers fired by Bunker C fuel oil, each capable of producing forty thousand pounds of superheated steam per hour at 500 pounds per square inch pressure and 750 degrees F. The steam drove a large turbine which in turn drove an electric generator, the electricity from which operated an electric motor which finally turned the gears for the twin screws, or propellers. The exhaust steam leaving the turbine went through a condenser turning it back into water to be reintroduced to the boilers. Make up water was produced in an evaporator that could turn four tons of seawater into fresh water in a four hour period.

It had been one of the last ships through the Suez Canal before President Gamil Abdul Nasser closed that waterway by sinking boats in it. Stories abounded about how little boats would come out with Egyptians shouting at the crew and shaking their fists at them. Someone dropped a very large wrench over the side and through a little boat, sinking it. That would do a lot for international relations. There were more stories of how hot it was in the Red Sea. The ship's cat died of heat stroke, and engineers had to work out of the ship's refrigerator, doing part of a round then going back in to cool off before resuming their inspections. I was glad I had not joined the ship earlier.

This ship had been built in 1942 when the German submarines were sinking tankers as fast as they could be built. It had been constructed with a life expectancy of ten years and was now fifteen years old and leaky. Soon these small tankers would be replaced by supertankers of 100,000 or even 200,000 tons gross weight, bringing potential for ecological disaster.

We sailed out of Fawley on January 28, 1957 and I became seasick even when the sea was calm. This lasted for three days, during which the weather became stormy. My job was to assist the Third Engineer (who knew what he was doing), working two four hour shifts each day, seven days a week. A tanker has a bridge and forward deck where the captain and mates do their thing and have living quarters. The officers mess, kitchen, engine room, boiler room, funnel, and everyone else's living quarters are aft. An elevated long narrow flying bridge, exposed to the elements, connects the two ends of the ship.

The crew consisted of the Captain, in charge of marriages, funerals, and everything in between; First Mate, and Second Mate who looked after navigation; the Chief Engineer, who followed any deliveries of booze from the bond (where it was kept) to its destination, to share in the goodwill; Second, Third and Fourth Engineers; and three junior Engineers who were all, like me, Fifth Engineers. The Chief Engineer had overall responsibility but did not stand watch. The Second, Third and Fourth Engineers took turn on watch, keeping the engines running, each with the assistance of a Fifth. In addition there was an Electrician (Sparks), a Carpenter (Chips), some Stokers who looked after the operation of the boilers, a Purser, who guarded and dispersed the booze locked up in the bond. (Once outside the Three Mile Limit there was no obligation to pay tax on booze and it became very inexpensive.) There was the Cook, some Stewards, and a number of deck hands. Altogether we were a crew of about thirty rather strange people who had to live in close proximity for the duration of the voyage. We would come to know more about human nature and about each other than we would have chosen. The crew were predominantly English, except the Fourth Engineer who was from Edinburgh, Scotland and another Fifth engineer who was Irish. The English accents were strange to my ear and that sometimes caused problems.

Despite my seasickness I faithfully stood watch each day, which included making rounds checking on pressures and temperatures of various pumps, fans and assorted machinery. I would make part of my round, recording the produce of various gauges and thermometers then stop by a sink to throw up, then continue with another part of the round. One thing that disoriented me, setting off my sickness, was to see chains hanging from pulley blocks high up in the engine room. They did not hang vertically, but sideways. Someone gave me a tip to eat dry crackers and go up on the prow of the ship to watch the waves coming in. Either this cure worked or I got better anyway, but from the third day on I thoroughly enjoyed the stormy weather.

I had a cabin to myself on the port side well above sea level with two portholes. When the waves started rolling, the crew from the forward part of the ship had to risk the flying bridge to get aft for meals. This could be entertaining. Each man would wait for a big wave to break over this bridge then open his watertight door, making a run for the rear of the ship, trying to get there before the next wave soaked him. This was particularly enjoyable when it involved people whom I had come to dislike, and a few of us would gather to watch their efforts. At times in the Atlantic the waves would get so high that you would not believe me if I ventured to put a measurement on it. Suffice it to say that at times waves broke over the top of the Captain's bridge.

Esso provided excellent food but the overwhelming smell of our cargo so effected our taste buds that we could not appreciate it. When the weather was rough the stewards would soak the tablecloth and lay condiments and sauce bottles flat. Cutlery was passed out and held in hand so it did not go sliding off the table. Soup was not possible; some days eating a meal was not possible either. Sitting at a meal in stormy weather I could look through a porthole and see the ocean then as the ship rolled I would see clouds in a blue sky. We worked every day, so lost track of time, but knew it was Sunday when ice cream was served.

The noise below varied from extremely loud to deafening and the temperature in the engine room was 95 degrees, in the boiler room, 105 degrees. Because of the heat all I wore on shift was underpants, a pair of coveralls and shoes. I wore socks for a while but they rotted from perspiration. When the telephone rang, between the noise and strange accents I found it difficult to understand the speaker. We were designated as a weather ship and each hour had to radio various climatic information. The most common thing the phone would ring for was a request for the sea temperature, so anytime I could not understand the phone message, I would give them the sea temperature. This, understandably, led to problems.

Because the ship was past its best, we engineers had usually to work an extra four hour shift each day, making it a "field day" just to keep things working the way they must for our survival. There was no doctor on board but the medical kit included a stretcher, splints, aspirin, bandages, ointments and enough Epsom Salts to move the bowels of the earth. The rubbing alcohol had mysteriously vanished. In the hot weather you were expected to avoid excessive sunshine. Anyone who was incapacitated with sunburn could be put on a charge, whatever that meant.

January in the Atlantic means wild weather. When I recovered from seasickness there was a lot I enjoyed about the big storms. It was somewhat like mountain climbing -- life on the edge. A few days out our radar scanner broke down and someone was needed to climb a mast and fix it. I volunteered but fortunately they got a real sailor to do the job.

One week out and I was feeling OK except that from the movement of the ship I had become badly constipated and took a large dose of the Epsom Salts. Right at this time, we had an emergency, and a boiler had to be shut down for repairs. We had only half power to handle the storms so we had to get it back on line as soon as possible. It was 105 degrees in the Boiler Room but we had to climb in and out of the boiler where it was 140 degrees. I worked for straight 36 hours without rest while the Epsom Salts proved their effectiveness. This period of time is still a blur.

Another time, as we were going off shift, a gasket blew on a main steam line and the Engine Room instantly filled up with steam like a Turkish bath. While it was impressive, it turned out to be relatively easy to repair.

I wrote to Eileen describing our experiences, about three pages every day, and mailed them when we arrived in a port. These bulky letters would arrive stained with sweat, Coca Cola, and Guinness.

I do not remember ever meeting the Captain, who ate in his quarters, and met the Chief Engineer only when, just as advertized, he followed a case of Guinness from the bond to my cabin. After that he would pop in regularly until it was finished, then I did not see him again until my next case arrived. The Second Mate was a fair haired, burly man and seemed to run the ship. He was from Newcastle (a Geordie) and a very sour man, and it was he that interacted with the Engineers on duty. Coming from that part of England, he had a very strong accent, and I found him difficult to understand. I was later to hear that he had marriage problems and had not heard from his wife since we left England. At sea problems like this become magnified and spill over to affect the crew. That may have contributed to his personality, but I think it was a talent. A few crew members did not have all of their oars in the water and one man, who had come to hate Esso, spent hours trying to scrape the company name and logo off a mug. Life at sea pushes many in that direction.

The Third Engineer that I worked with was a nice enough guy, although we never became close friends. He was from the Isle of Wight and had a girlfriend I met when she was leaving the ship after a last conjugal visit in Fawley. He was interested in the fact that I was engaged as he planned to get engaged when the ship returned home. During our trip he would speak to me about his plans, but I could see trouble ahead as, in the short time I saw her, I could see she had "a roving eye." I did not think he would welcome that news item, so never said anything about it. The Third had his quirks too. The evaporator that made fresh water was of simple design. Sea water came into it, steam was passed through tubes, converting seawater to steam which was then condensed leaving its salt on the outside of the tubes, and passing pure water to storage tanks. Cold water through the tubes would then shatter the coating of salt and it could be flushed away. Simple as it may be, the proportions of steam and seawater were critical and too much of one or the other would set a very loud alarm going. The Third had mastered this process but last thing, before going off shift, he would readjust the valves and we would pause before leaving the engine room to hear the alarm going off and the Fourth Engineer start cursing, sweating, and running around.

The Third and I would spend some time together after shift. At four in the morning we would pick up large glasses of evaporated milk mixed with water and an ice cube, then sit on deck chatting, enjoying this strange brew. This drink never tasted good before or since, but in the Caribbean looking at the brilliant stars with no light pollution and watching the flying fish it was perfect. Dolphins followed our ship for many hours and as we sailed along, flying fish would either fly to the side to get away from us or fly ahead and have to keep on flying. They actually glided rather than flew, and it seemed that they could be airborne for about fifty yards at a time. So many empty beer cans were thrown overboard that we used to speculate that one day a ship would run aground on Beer Can Island. The one thing involving the Third that I was ashamed of was when his wooden deck chair collapsed with his fingers jammed in it, and I could not stop laughing quickly enough to help him. He must have thought I was warped too.

The Fourth Engineer was meaner than cat shit. He had huge biceps, was an expert in martial arts, and was nasty from day one. He started throwing his weight around, humiliating the stewards. He said the steak they brought him was terrible, and demanded they take it away and bring something properly cooked. Then he winked at me and said "You have to show these bastards who is the boss". A jumped-up tradesman misusing power. Whenever he was doing something particularly nasty, he would wear a sadistic smile as though it was all a joke. My management methods were the reverse of his, including showing respect for others and appreciation for any extra effort they made for me. The Fourth seemed to like me, perhaps as a fellow Scot, but I never liked him. From time to time I tried to use this "relationship" to appeal to his better side, but he did not have one. On the other hand he was often trying to point out that a strong hand was the way to get things done.

The Irishman, Paddy, worked under the supervision of the Fourth Engineer. I really liked Paddy -- he was young, gentle and normally good natured. As the voyage went on, it seemed that the Fourth took a dislike to him. He claimed he was trying to train Paddy and that he had to "break" him. Paddy was assigned all the most miserable jobs, many of which were not necessary, and worked in extremes of heat, dirt, stink and anything unpleasant that occurred to the Fourth. Paddy spent a lot of time in the bilges. I think the Fourth wanted him to give up and ask for a break, but Paddy resolutely did all the work without giving in. Unfortunately Paddy started drinking a lot in his off time. By the end of the voyage this gentle boy was threatening the life of the Fourth, going around with a large wrench, clanging it on metal bulwarks and telling the Fourth not to sleep too deeply. The Fourth pretended that this did not bother him at all, but I expect he was lying.

In 1957 it seemed that Elvis was on the radio all day, every day. The Esso Manchester too, could really rock and roll. Our ship handled pitching quite well but it could really roll from side to side. We took on extra ballast but it was still a problem. A few days after the boiler was repaired we were underway and back to a normal routine, when we were hit by a wind force ten. The ship started rolling so badly that a large steel crate of spare parts, weighing about two tons, broke loose and started sliding across in front of the boilers, crashing against the bulkhead then sliding to crash on the other side. We were afraid that it could break through the side of the ship. The stokers got out of the way and the Third Engineer and I grabbed crow bars and chased after the crate. We were too slow in getting to it and pretty soon the crate was chasing us. We had to jump up and hang on to steel beams as it passed under us then we pursued it again. This slapstick was repeated a few times before we managed to get it pinned and secured.

We had an electrical problem in the middle of the night and I had to wake up the Electrician. I was warned that Sparks had a phobia about drowning and would be hard to rouse. I was hardly able to contain myself when after banging, kicking, and beating on his steel cabin door with a large wrench, he finally opened up. Sparks was prepared for the ship going down, fully dressed, wearing an inflated Mae West life jacket, no teeth, with his wig on backwards. Despite his fears he turned out and fixed our electrical problems before going, grumbling and mumbling, back to bed.

The very word "Jamaica" had a magic ring for me. I had signed on for a voyage to Jamaica and back to Fawley, but I was to find out that uniforms were not the only thing the merchant navy had in common with the military. The company could change their minds about destinations, sending you anywhere in the world for up to two years, then they had to get you to your home port even if they had to fly you there. Anyway this was a time of an oil crisis and strange things were happening. I was really looking forward to seeing Jamaica and I did, but only as we sailed right past it heading for Venezuela. As we sailed past I could hear Belafonte on the radio singing:

Jamaica Farewell

Down the way where the lights are gay
And the sun shines daily on the mountain top
I took a trip on a sailing ship
And when I reached Jamaica I made a stop
Now I'm sad to say, I'm on my way
Won't be back for many a day.
My heart is down, my head is spinning around
I had to leave a little girl in Kingston Town.

If Elvis was King in North America, Harry Belafonte and calypso ruled in the Caribbean. We were regaled with a steady diet of Day-o, Brown Skin Girl, Jamaica Farewell, Scarlet Ribbon and other favourites. I must say that I preferred Harry to Elvis and Calypso to Rock'n'roll. Calypso is more of a ballad and tells a story. This was as close as I would ever get to Jamaica, although Jamaica, its culture and its crime would eventually be exported to Britain and Canada.

In the warm weather of the Caribbean it was decided that we would paint the superstructure at the front of the ship. About eight men with buckets of white paint were doing a fine job and the ship started to gleam. Every shift had its unpleasant jobs, and the one allocated to our shift was blowing the boiler tubes clean to maintain the efficiency of heat transfer. To do this the Third Engineer would climb up on a platform high above the boilers to open and close the steam valves, and I would be jammed behind the boiler to pull on the overhead chain that rotated the soot blowers. The soot was carried out of the funnel at the back of the ship with the boiler exhaust gases. The soot blowers were a bit leaky and I had to be nimble to manage the job while avoiding the scalding hot water which splashed around me. It was hot, dangerous work, taking about twenty minutes, and once started we did not wish to be interrupted. In the middle of the job, the telephone started persistently ringing. We thought it would be another request for the sea temperature, which could readily wait, so we said "To Hell with them" or words to that effect. Just after we finished and sat down with that feeling of well being that comes with a job well done, the Second Mate burst into the Engine Room. His face was red and he was literally jumping mad. We wondered what was bugging the silly man this time. It was then that we found out that there was a strong following wind that morning. The soot we had been blowing from the boilers had all ended up on the newly painted superstructure. Giving him the sea temperature when I finally answered the phone had not helped the situation either.

We had a change of orders and were supposed to go to Maracaibo. That sounded very interesting and exotic, but again things changed and we ended up at a place called Amoy Bay. I have never seen it on a map before or since, but it was there. There were a number of tankers from other nations tied up near us, I could see a lot of desert and away in the distance what looked like a volcano. I was told that a customs officer was coming aboard and if he went in to my cabin and took anything I was to let him have it. Apparently he usually helped himself to booze from the bond and goodness knows what else. I saw the customs launch pull alongside and an old peasant type with a straw hat tried to help this guy in immaculate uniform. For his trouble he was given a punch in the face. I hoped he would not come near me as I did not think I would control myself, and fortunately he didn't. It was in port that I found out that the ship had a thirteen hour turn around (could load or unload in that time) and that engineers had to stand port watches as pumps, fans, and generators were all running.

I got ashore for all of ninety minutes in Venezuela, just enough time to go to a bar and have a beer. There were police types guarding various gates with carbines on their shoulders. I was told that a German sailor had run to catch up with some friends a few days earlier and was shot for looking suspicious. I could have got away longer but covered for others who wanted to get to a nearby "nightclub". They said the women were really beautiful, but I declined to join them. Later two crew members started fighting with each other as one had oral sex with a woman and the other man had later been kissing her. When they compared notes, that's when the trouble started. One man's meat is another man's poison.

Chips, our carpenter, got drunk here and missed the set time for sailing, so he was left behind. I never heard what happened to him after that. So we said farewell to the beauties of Venezuela and headed north with a load of oil for Portland, Maine. It was hot in the Caribbean and I was wearing shorts each day. It was still hot when I went to bed but when I rose in the morning, just off the coast of New York, it was snowing, and I was bloody freezing. There was lots of snow in Portland and we sailed up a river to deliver our cargo near a power station. I don't remember much about Portland except for a taxi driver who complained bitterly about the purchasing power of the dollar. He said "I remember when a dollar was a dollar. Now it ain't worth a piss hole in the snow." Now why would that stay with me for fifty years? The US government was very much afraid of Communists and I was interviewed by a stern looking official who asked me two questions.

  1. Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?
  2. Are you clean?

The second question was not about soap and water, but about sexually transmitted diseases. Everyone on board our ship passed the test, but I bet it would have caught out anyone being dishonest. By the time we got to Portland I had developed a very painful medical problem. From turning large, stiff, valve handles, a motion that I was not used to, I developed bursitis in my right shoulder and it was so bad that I ended up with severe bruising. It added nothing to my enjoyment of this port. Anyway, I got ashore for two hours in an isolated village outside Portland. Oil tankers do not usually get to tie up in towns. Now we said goodby to the snows of Portland and headed for New Orleans. Isn't that exciting!

In my mind I could hear the rich voice of that wonderful singer, Paul Robeson, singing Ole Man River:

Darkies all work on the Mississippi
Darkies all work while the white man play.

Paul Robeson, Olympic high jumper, possessed the finest voice in the world. Like Charlie Chaplin he was a social activist before his time. He left the USA to go on tour, was branded a Communist, and denied readmittance. The same thing happened to Chaplin. A few years later Robeson would have joined Harry Belafonte and Martin Luther King and gone down in fond memory. The early worm gets the bird.

Big Muddy, they call it. The Mississippi River lives up to that -- it is big, and it sure is muddy! The entrance to the river is vast and has five mouths. We did not see much for a while, then gradually began to see work barges along the shore, with black men still doing the most menial work. Again we sailed past New Orleans, tying up by an oil tank farm, miles away from New Orleans. I worked again and got ashore for another ninety minutes. We were far enough from town that I did not get there at all. To this day I have not seen New Orleans. There was an accident while we were there and five thousand gallons of oil was spilled into the Mississippi, but not on my shift. This was in the days before we were aware of ecological problems. A fine had to be paid -- not very much -- and there was a fuss, which I could not understand. The river was such a mess anyway, I did not see what difference a bit of oil would make. How much we have learned since then!

Homeward bound at last, the Atlantic had one final go at our leaky ship. After a stormy night, I awoke one morning to a swishing sound followed by bonk, bonk, bonk. I jumped out of bed into a foot of seawater on my cabin floor. The swishing was the water, the bonking was my shoes and the drawers that had tumbled out of my storage cupboard. All were floating like little boats. As I tried to rescue them my bed took off and started banging from one side of my cabin to the other. Just call me Dances With Waves.

When we arrived home, all around Britain oil tankers were anchored, waiting for the price of oil to rise. Esso had been very good to me. They fed well, they paid well, and I had lots of vacation coming from the hours I had worked at sea. Despite this, between all of the uncertainty about the duration of a voyage, the lack of opportunity to see interesting places, the heat, and some of the unpleasant people, I had decided that life at sea was not for me. I was determined that when I got back to Fawley, I would quit. I had been ashore for all of 5 hours in this whole trip. Not a life for someone planning to get married. It seemed to me that an experience like this was the spice of life. I would remember it forever, but a little spice goes a long way. Who wants a steady diet of spice?

At this point, more uncertainty entered into the picture. Most of the unions in Britain were headed by Communists at this time. There were not very many Communists, but their method of taking control was simple. They were the only people willing to attend meetings, so they elected themselves. As we neared Britain there was news .that the Transport and General Workers Union was going to strike all forms public transportation. I was informed, as a result, I would have to sign on for another trip. I vowed, if necessary, I would walk the five hundred miles home.

After signing off, the Engineers compared the ratings the Chief had given us. Each one said:

Ability: Very Good
General Conduct: Very Good
Strictly Sober

I cannot believe the Chief was strictly sober when he completed these ratings. Even Paddy was "Strictly Sober." I had started a poem that was perhaps a more honest reference for some of the crew.

The Chief's aloof, the Mate's a poof
the Fourth's a rotten Bastard
There's lots to fear and plenty beer
so Paddy, the Junior, gets plastered

It was not necessary to walk home. The strike was delayed and I took the train to Glasgow accompanied by the Fourth Engineer. Despite his experience with Paddy, he was sure that his methods of handling people were sound, and continued trying to convince me of it. As we neared Edinburgh where he lived he was pointing out to me how he had received first class service from the kitchen staff and stewards, all during the trip. It was true. As usual, he was often wrong, but never uncertain. I could hold it back no longer.

As the train was pulling away from Edinburgh I called through the train window, "Do you remember when the steward got drunk in Venezuela?"

He said "Yes. What about it?"

I shouted, "That's when he told me they always spat in your soup and wiped their dicks on your plate."

He looked kind of green but I never saw him again. He probably still thinks he was right.

His kind never change.


MERCHANT SHIPS

Oil tankers have grown in size since my days at sea in a 16,000 ton tanker. The largest tanker afloat is 600,000 tons, 1,500 feet long, 225 feet wide and 80 feet below the water line. This is about ten times the volume of the Queen Mary. The modern supertankers are filled and discharged through underwater pipelines provided by offshore ports. Every tanker has a hull and bulkheads which run the length and width of the ship, dividing the tanker into compartments, enabling the vessel to carry several petroleum products at the same time. Some tankers, but not many, have double bulkheads to minimize loss of oil in accidents. Ships of this size are difficult to maneuver and take about three miles to come to a stop. These ponderous vessels create a potential for ecological disaster, not only from accidents, but also from terrorist attacks.

Altogether there are about 7,500 merchant ships in the world with a gross tonnage of 400,000,000 tons. 17,000,000 additional tons are built each year. Japan and South Korea produce about two thirds of the annual tonnage launched. The United States merchant marine has about 6,500 vessels, including those that sail the Great Lakes and inland waterways.

The U.S. federal government requires that all merchant ships registered under the United States flag must be American built and operated by American crews. Shipbuilding in the USA costs about 50% more than in the lowest cost shipyards, located mostly in Asia. American flag ships can compete against foreign vessels only with the help of government subsidies. The government grants these subsidies because it believes that a merchant fleet is vital to the nation's foreign trade and national defense. In wartime US ships are necessary to carry supplies, and shipyards are vital to build warships. Without a large merchant fleet the USA is dependent on foreign countries whose allegiance may lie elsewhere.

Despite this, only 150 ships flying the American flag are engaged in its foreign trade, carrying about 4% of U.S. trade. Most American companies refuse to take the subsidies, preferring to build and register abroad, thus building more cheaply and enabling the company to pay lower taxes, pay crew members lower wages, and not be required to follow the strict and expensive safety standards.

The USA and other developed countries require that ships meet safety standards, crews be trained, qualified and adequately paid. As a result, Liberia has the largest merchant fleet in the world with 55,000,000 gross tons or 15% of the worlds total tonnage. This fleet is followed in size by the Bahamas, Honduras, and Panama. These are called "flags of convenience" and enable US companies and those from developed countries to avoid paying taxes at home, paying much lower taxes to these tiny countries. US exporters are free to pay crews much lower wages and avoid following any decent safety standards. For accommodating these powerful and wealthy companies, Liberia receives $20 million a year in registration fees. The companies are enabled to save billions by unleashing "sinking Sarahs", ships of unsafe condition, on the world, endangering every continent. Oil tankers spill 1,200,000 tons of oil annually into the world's oceans.

So much for patriotism, free trade, and market forces.

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