Merchant Marine

The United States Merchant Marine is an organization composed of United States civilian mariners and U.S. civilian and federally owned merchant vessels. Both the civilian mariners and the merchant vessels are managed by a combination of the government and private sectors, and engage in commerce or transportation of goods and services in and out of the navigable waters of the United States. The Merchant Marine primarily transports domestic and international cargo and passengers during peacetime, and operate and maintain deep-sea merchant ships, tugboats, towboats, ferries, dredges, excursion vessels, charter boats and other waterborne craft on the oceans, the Great Lakes, rivers, canals, harbors, and other waterways. In times of war, the Merchant Marine can be an auxiliary to the United States Navy, and can be called upon to deliver military personnel and material for the military.

The federal government maintains fleets of merchant ships managed by the United States Maritime Administration. In 2014, they employed approximately 6.5% of all American water transportation workers. Merchant Marine officers may also be commissioned as military officers by the Department of Defense. This is commonly achieved by commissioning unlimited tonnage Merchant Marine officers as Strategic Sealift Officers in the United States Navy Reserve.

During World War II, nearly 250,000 civilian merchant mariners served as part of the U.S. military, transporting supplies and personnel. Between 1939 and 1945, 9,521 merchant mariners died, a per capita casualty rate greater than those of each U.S. Armed Forces branch. The GI Bill Improvement Act Of 1977 P.L. 95-202, granted veteran status to Women Airforce Service Pilots and “any person in any other similarly situated group” with jurisdiction granted to the Secretary of Defense, and delegated to the Secretary of the Air Force. Merchant mariners who served in World War II were denied such veterans recognition until 1987 when a federal court ordered it. The Court held that the Secretary of the Air Force wrongfully denied active military service recognition to American merchant mariners who participated in World War II.

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