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1. Origin and Mission

The Bureau of Navigation, a service created in 1884,1 administers the navigation laws enacted for the purpose of supervising and regulating the merchant marine of the United States.


2. History

The need of uniform regulation of navigation and shipping was one of the potent reasons for the “more perfect union" of the states when the present government was organized. The third act of the First Congress had to do with ship tonnage. It was soon followed by an act: providing for the registering and clearing of vessels and regulation of coasting trade which is still the foundation of the navigation policy of the United States, upon which succeeding Congresses have built a system of laws designed to meet the changed conditions and to keep pace with the expansion of our water-borne commerce.

From the beginning, the navigation laws have been administered by customs officers of the Treasury Department-collectors and surveyors of customs and their deputies and inspectors. Prior to the establishment of the Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903, the Secretary of the Treasury had direction of this work. He originally acted through the Register of the Treasury in matters relating to the documenting of vessels, and through the Navigation Division of the Customs Service in the administration of other features of the navigation laws.

By the Act of June 7, 1872,4 the several Circuit Courts were required to appoint, for each port of entry within their respective jurisdictions, an officer to be known as Shipping Commissioner, whose principal duties were: (a) To afford facilities for engaging seamen, by keeping a register of their names and characters; (b) to superintend the engagement and discharge of seamen; (c) to provide means of securing the presence of newly engaged seamen on board ship; and (d) to facilitate the making of apprenticeships to the sea service. Shipping Commissioners were officers of the courts for a number of years, but by the Act of June 26, 1884, they were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department, although they were still accountable in certain matters to the United States District Judges, to whom appeal from their decisions was, and still is, possible.

By the Act of July 5, 1884,5 the Bureau of Navigation was established in the Treasury Department, with a Commissioner of Navigation at its head. This bureau was given general superintendence, under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, of the merchant marine and merchant seamen of the United States, and of the offices of the Shipping Commissioners (Shipping Offices).

1 Act July 5, 1884 (23 Stat. 118 [Comp. St. 88 890–895]). 2 Act July 20, 1789 (1 Stat. 27). 3 Act Sept. 1, 1789 (1 Stat. 55). 4 17 Stat. 262. 6 23 Stat. 118 (Comp. St. 88 890–895).

Upon the establishment of the Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903,8 the Bureau of Navigation was transferred to that department. 3. General Functions

Except for certain special lines of work intrusted to the Public Health Service and the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation has exclusive regulatory jurisdiction over the American merchant marine and American merchant seamen. The Commissioner of Navigation is charged with the decision of all questions arising in connection with the registering, enrollment, and licensing of American vessels. The bureau publishes each year a list of American vessels, and supervises the changes of names of vessels in accordance with the provisions of law. It decides disputed questions relating to entries and clearances of vessels at American ports, and to the recording of mortgages, bills of sale, and transfers. It has direction of the work of customs officers in the measurement of vessels to ascertain the basis for the assessment of tonnage taxes and other federal, state, and municipal charges. It compiles and publishes shipping statistics. It finally decides all questions arising in connection with the assessment and collection of tonnage taxes.

Among the special laws enforced through the Bureau of Navigation are the following: The Passenger Act of 1882, which provides for the safety and welfare of steerage passengers arriving at, or departing from, United States ports; the Motorboat Act of June 9, 1910,8 which is designed to prevent risk of life and to secure obedience to the principles of navigation among the hundreds of thousands of small motor craft in American waters; and the Radio Communication Acts of June 24, 1910, July 23, 1912, and August 13, 1912,9 which govern American wireless telegraph stations, both on land and on shipboard, in so far as they affect interstate and foreign commerce.

The Bureau of Navigation also supervises the enforcement of the laws concerning neutrality, so far as they relate to offenses involved in the clearance of vessels fitted out for military purposes or in the transportation by water of recruits or munitions.10 It administers the laws reserving to American vessels the transportation of cargoes and passengers in the domestic commerce of the United States. It superintends the enforcement of the regulations governing the passage of vessels through the improved waters of St. Mary's River (connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron)," and the regulations for the patrol of crowded waters during the regattas and marine parades.12 The bureau formulates such regulations under the direction of the Secretary of Commerce and supervises their enforcement by the vessels and personnel of the Customs Service and the Coast Guard.

6 Act Feb. 14, 1903 (32 Stat. 826). 7 Act Aug. 2, 1882 (22 Stat. 190). 8 36 Stat. 463.

9 36 Stat. 630 (Comp. St. $8 8262-8265); 37 Stat. 199 (Comp. St. & 8262, 8266); 37 Stat. 302 (Comp. St. 88 10100–10109).

10 Act June 15, 1917 (10 Stat. 221).
11 Act April 26, 1906 (34 Stat. 136).
12 Act April 28, 1908 (35 Stat. 69 (Comp. St. & 8231 et seq.]).

Appeals from the rulings of customs officers imposing fines, penalties, and forfeitures are decided by the Secretary of Commerce after investigation and recommendation by the Commissioner of Navigation, and the Bureau of Navigation receives and examines the accounts of customs officers relating to the collection of navigation fees, fines, penalties, and forfeitures, and similar items.

Although the Bureau of Navigation is generally responsible for the enforcement of the navigation laws of the country, yet in discharging this responsibility the bureau relies principally upon employees of the Treasury, chiefly customs officers. Customs officers perform practically all of the work involved in the admeasurement and documenting of vessels, and in the collection of tonnage dues and navigation fines, penalties, and forfeitures; in the enforcement of the laws relating to the entry and clearance of vessels at American ports; in the enforcement of the laws providing for the safety and welfare of steerage passengers ; and in the enforcement of the laws concerning neutrality, and the laws reserving to American vessels the transportation of cargoes and passengers in the domestic commerce of the United States. Except at twelve ports, customs officers, acting as shipping commissioners ex officio, perform all the work relating to the shipping and discharge of seamen, and everywhere they perform perhaps the major portion of the work involved in the enforcement of the Motorboat Act. Indeed, it may be said that they are the active agency of the government for the enforcement of the navigation laws as a whole.

As a matter of fact, the navigation laws usually fail to specify the particular service to be charged with their enforcement. Prior to 1903, when the duty of enforcing the navigation laws was transferred to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, the laws generally placed the responsibility for enforcement upon the Secretary of the Treasury, although customs officers were the actual medium of enforcement. Acts relating to navigation adopted since that year follow the earlier practice in the matter of specifying the enforcing agency. Thus, the Motorboat Act of June 9, 1910,8 and the Radio Communication Act of June 24, 1910,13 both provide that "the Secretary of Commerce and Labor shall make such regulations as may be necessary to secure the proper execution of this act by collectors of customs and other officers of the government.”

The Bureau of Navigation is, in fact, hardly more than the direct agency of the Secretary of Commerce for supervising the enforcement of the navigation laws by officers of the Customs Service. Again, customs officers are, in effect, the agents of the Bureau of Navigation in so far as the performance of these duties is concerned. In respect to these duties they receive their instructions directly from, and make their reports directly to, the Bureau of Navigation.

The jurisdiction had by the bureau over the administration of the navigation laws is of the most general character. It exercises general oversight over the administration and enforcement of the navigation laws and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder. For the most part, however, action is taken, and the actual work is performed, by other services, chiefly the Customs Service of the Treasury Department. The bureau has, however, certain special duties which it performs on its own account by its own officers, the Shipping Commissioners, radio inspection officers, navigation officers, and the motorboat patrol. These are as follows: First, to investigate and report upon the operation of the laws regarding the merchant marine; second, to compile and publish statistics relating to the merchant marine; third, to decide questions arising in connection with the payment or repayment of tonnage taxes; and, fourth, to decide questions relative to the abatement or remission of navigation fines, penalties, or forfeitures. To this list of duties actually performed by officers of the Bureau of Navigation should be added four additional duties performed partly by customs officers and partly by officers of the Bureau of Navigation, but in either event directly under the supervision of the Bureau of Navigation, to wit: First, the admeasurement, registration, enrollment, licensing, naming, numbering, recording of mortgages and bills of sale, etc., of vessels; second, the shipping and discharge of merchant seamen and the protection of their interests generally; third, the enforcement of the radio communication laws; and, fourth, the enforcement of the Motorboat Act.

6 Act Feb. 14, 1903 (32 Stat. 826). 836 Stat. 463. 13.36 Stat. 630 (Comp. St. § 8265).

4. Records of Ownership

Records of ownership, transfer of title, etc., are kept by the Customs Service, under direction of the Bureau of Navigation, in a manner analogous to the system of registration of land titles.

By the Act of February 16, 1925, every vessel of the United States is required to have a "home port” in the United States, subject to the approval of the Commissioner of Navigation. 5. Registration, Enrollment, and Licensing

To engage in trade at any port of the United States under the United States flag, all vessels of 5 tons burden and over must be documented by

(a) Certificates of registry for vessels in foreign trade or in trade with the insular possessions of the United States, except Hawaii and Porto Rico; (1) enrollment and license for vessels of 20 tons burden and upward exclusively engaged in coasting trade or fisheries of the United States; (2,3) license for vessels of 5 tons, but less than 20 tons, burden in the coasting and fishing trades. Registration under the United States flag is restricted to vessels owned wholly by American citizens, which includes American corporations, even though stock in such corporations be owned by aliens. Registration is not obligatory, but privilege. Vessels not registered pursuant to law, except such vessels duly qualified for carrying on the coasting or fishing trade, are not regarded as vessels of the United States, and shall not be entitled to the benefits and privileges pertaining to such vessels. Originally only American-built vessels, or those captured in war or salvaged from wreck, and two specified ships, could be admitted to registry.14 This requirement was radically changed in 1912.15

14 Registry Law Dec. 31, 1792 (1 Stat. 287). See Institute for Government Research, Service Monograph 15, pp. 34, 35.

15 Panama Canal Act Aug. 24, 1912 (37 Stat. 560, 562), and Ship Registry Act Aug. 18, 1914 (38 Stat. 698).

(b) Provisional certificates of registry may be issued by United States representatives abroad to vessels purchased by citizens of the United States. 16

(c) Consolidation of enrollment and license in one document for a vessel of the United States was provided for by the Act Feb. 29, 1912.17 6. Naming and Numbering

Every undocumented vessel, operated in whole or in part by machinery, except public vessels and those not exceeding 16 feet in length, temporarily equipped with detachable motors, must be numbered.18 7. Tonnage Taxes

On all vessels which enter any port of the United States from any foreign port or place in North America, Central America, the West India Islands, the Bahama Islands, the Bermuda Islands, the coast of South America bordering on the Caribbean Sea, or Newfoundland, a tonnage duty of two cents per ton is imposed on each entry. On all vessels which enter in any port of the United States from any other foreign port, a tonnage tax of six cents is imposed at each entry. It is not levied on more than five entries at the same rate during any one year, the tonnage year beginning with the data of the first payment and ending on the day preceding the corresponding day on the following year. But these are exemptions:

(a) No vessel belonging to an American citizen trading between ports within the United States, or employed in the bank, whale, or other fisheries, is subject to tonnage tax or duty, if such vessel is licensed, registered, or enrolled.

(b) No tonnage or clearance fees are charged against any vessel making regular daily trips between any United States port and Canadian port, wholly upon internal waters not navigable to the ocean, except upon the first clearing each year.

(c) Vessels entering otherwise than by sea from foreign ports at which no tonnage or light dues or equivalent taxes are imposed on United States vessels are exempted from tonnage taxes in the United States.19 A tax was imposed on American-owned foreign-built yachts by an act, the constitutionality of which was contested, and the act repealed.20

(d) Vessels owned by Filipinos and documented as such by the Philippine government were exempted in United States ports from paying tonnage taxes and light dues. 21

(e) There are international reciprocal exemptions.22

16 Act March 4, 1915 (38 Stat. 1193, 1194).
17 37 Stat. 70 (Comp. St. $ 8066).
18 40 Stat. 602 (Comp. St. 1918, Comp. St. Ann. Supp. 1919, 88 8095a-8095f).

19 Act March 8, 1910 (36 Stat. 234 [Comp. St. $ 7814]). See, also, Act Aug. 18, 1914 (38 Stat. 698), and Act March 4, 1915 (38 Stat. 1193 (Comp. St. § 7812a]).

20 Act Aug. 5, 1909 (36 Stat. 11, 112), and Act Oct. 3, 1913 (38 Stat. 114, 201). 21 Act July 1, 1916 (39 Stat. 262, 286). 22 Act June 19, 1886, § 11, (24 Stat. 79, 82 (Comp. St. $ 7812]), and Act June 5, 1920, $

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