Merchant Fleet's Decline
Shrinking U.S. Share of Maritime Traffic
The number of oceangoing, American-owned and operated ships—the U.S.-flag fleet—has been declining steadily for decades, falling from 1,170 ships in 1950 to 520 today. While the United States remains the largest trading nation in the world, it now carries only about 5 percent of its imports and exports on its own ships; 30 years ago more than half the nation's international commerce moved on U.S.-flag ships.
Only 15 of the world's 4,700 dry-bulk ships—those that carry commodities such as iron ore, coal and grain—fly the American flag. This means that 98 percent of U.S. exports of bulk goods travel on foreign vessels. Surprisingly, the steady decline in the nation's $8 billion maritime industry has received relatively little public ...