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Bureau of Navigation.
The recognized need of uniform regulation of navigation and shipping was one of the reasons for the formation of a more perfect union of the States, and the third act of the first Congress, passed July 20, 1789, provided for imposing duties on the tonnage of vessels, This was followed on September 1, 1789, by the act for the registering and clearing of vessels and regulating the coasting trade, which is still the foundation of the navigation laws and policy of the United States. Succeeding Congresses have built on this foundation a system of laws designed to meet the growth and variety of conditions of our water-borne commerce, with increasing regard in the course of years to the safety of life.
The field force for the administration of these laws from the beginning of our Government has consisted of collectors and surveyors of customs, with their deputies and inspectors, under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, acting at Washington originally through the Register of the Treasury in the matter of documents 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 July 5, 1884, the Bureau of Navigation, with a Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner, was established. This Bureau was transferred to the Department of Commerce July 1, 1903, by the act of February 14, 1903, and to the Secretary of commerce were transferred all the duties, power, authority, and jurisdiction previously conferred upon the Secretary of the Treasury by acts of Congress relating to merchant vessels or yachts, their measurement, numbers, names, registers, enrollments, licenses, commissions, records, mortgages, bills of sale, transfers, entry, clearance, movements and transportation of their cargoes and passengers, owners, officers, seamen, passengers, fees, inspection, equipment for the better security of life, and by acts of Congress relating to tonnage tax, boilers on steam vessels, the carrying of inflammable, explosive, or dangerous cargo on vessels, the use of petroleum or other similar substances to produce motive power, and relating to the remission or refund of fines, penalties, forfeitures, exactions, or charges incurred for violating any provision of law relating to vessels or seamen.
The Bureau of Navigation by law has general supervision of the merchant marine and of merchant seamen except in so far as special lines of work are assigned to the Steamboat-Inspection Service and the Public Health Service.
The Commissioner is specially charged with the decision of all questions relating to the issue of registers, enrollments, and licenses of approximately 26,000 vessels of the United States, ranging from trans-Atlantic liners to motor boats. The Bureau prepares and publishes annually a list of these vessels, showing some details of construction and the home port, and a separate list of seagoing vessels showing signal letters, names of owners, signal code, etc. The changes in the names of these vessels are governed by statute and are made through the Bureau.
Entries of vessels at ports of the United States in foreign trade number annually about 30,000, with a corresponding number of clearances, and disputed questions relating to these movements are decided by the Secretary of Commerce through the Commissioner of Navigation.
Measurement of vessels to ascertain the basis upon which Federal tonnage taxes and various other charges - State, municipal, and private - are assessed is also conducted by customs authorities under the direction of the Bureau.
Tonnage taxes collected annually on entries amount in round numbers to about $1,000,000, and the decisions of the Commissioner of Navigation on this subject by statute are made final.
Among the special laws enforced through this Bureau are:
(1) Those governing radio communication enacted June 24, 1910, July 23, 1912, and August 13, 1912, which cover wireless telegraph stations both on shipboard and in the United States as far as they affect interstate and foreign commerce, yet administrative purposes, the country has been divided into nine districts and inspectors appointed for each district. These laws as well as these covering ether items of equipment and the navigation of vessels are intended to safeguard life and property.
(2) The passenger act of 1882, designed to promote the safety and comfort of steerage passengers arriving in and departing from the United States, numbering over a million a year.
(3) The motor-boat act of June 9, 1910, which aims to secure obedience to the principles of navigation involved in the "rules of the road'' and to prevent risk of life through fire or water on small motor craft, already numbering approximately 200,000.
(4) Regulations governing the anchorage of vessels in the harbor of New York and other ports; the transit of vessels through the improved waters of St. Marys River, where the navigation movement is greater than that through the Suez Canal; and for the patrol of crowded waters during regattas and marine parades. Regulations are formulated by the Bureau, under the direction of the Secretary of Commerce, and then enforced by revenue cutters and other patrol boats.
(5) Laws concerning neutrality, so far as they relate to offenses which are involved in the clearance of any vessel fitted out or built for war like purposes or the transportation of recruits, arms, or munitions of war by water.
(6) The coastwise laws, designed to reserve to American vessels the transportation of cargo and passengers in the domestic commerce of the United States.
Appeals from the rulings of collectors of customs imposing fines, penalties, and forfeitures on vessels and their owners or masters are decided by the Secretary of Commerce after preliminary investigation and preparation of the evidence and facts by the Commissioner of Navigation, involving a knowledge of precedents, construction of statutes, decisions of the courts, and the practical necessities of the shipping interests as they relate to safety to life and property and the promotion of commerce.
The remuneration of collectors, and in many instances surveyors, is based partly on services rendered to vessels, for which specific fees were formerly provided and are still the basis on which such remuneration is paid. The accounts for these services, in so far as they involve navigation matters, have administrative audit by the Bureau, after which they are transmitted to the Auditor for the State and other Departments for settlement.
The Government of the United States, in accord with ancient maritime custom, exercises supervision over the contracts between the owners and masters of vessels and the seamen, in order, so far as possible, to secure substantial justice in ease of dispute, without recourse to the courts. For this purpose shipping commissioners are appointed at the principal seaports and at other seaports collectors of customs act as shipping commissioners under the general supervision of the Commissioner of Navigation. The laws thus enforced also cover the shipment and discharge of seamen, all papers relating to the crew, their wages, scale of provisions, etc. At 17 principal seaports upward of 350,000 seamen in round numbers (counting repeated voyages) are thus shipped and discharged under Government supervision.
The laws administered through and by the Bureau of Navigation, which are compiled every four years by the Commissioner of Navigation, whose duty it is to investigate the operation of these laws and to recommend to the Secretary of Commerce particulars in which they should be amended or improved, are published quadrennially in a separate volume entitled "Navigation Laws of the United States," to which a supplement is issued annually upon the adjournment of Congress. The volume includes the laws relating to the registry, enrollment, and license, official numbers, and names of merchant vessels and vessels engaged in the fisheries, undocumented vessels, and yachts; admeasurement laws for ascertaining gross and net tonnage, crew accommodations, and propelling power; detailed statutory requirements concerning the issue of marine documents, bills of sale, mortgages, and records; laws relating to the officers and crews of merchant vessels, including those which govern agreements, shipment and discharge, offenses and punishments, legal scale of provisions, and return and relief of distressed seamen; the laws to determine seaworthiness and inspection, provisions, medicines, and log books, and statutes fixing the liability of owners, masters, and shippers; the passenger act of 1882 with amendments, prescribing measures in detail for the comfort of steerage passengers; the general pilot laws, laws governing motor boats, and provisions concerning tonnage duties, discrimination, and retaliation; statutes governing entry and clearance, manifests, boarding and search of vessels; the laws concerning the coasting trade, and particular statutes affecting trade with Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Alaska, the Philippines, and the Canal Zone; the power of the Secretary of Commerce to mitigate and remit penalties incurred by the owners and masters of vessels; the statutory roles to prevent collisions of vessels on the ocean, on inland waters, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi and tributaries, and those defining the powers of the Secretary of Commerce over the anchorage and movements of vessels; the regulation of radio communication; the appointment of shipping commissioners and radio inspectors, and various other statutes. The volume comprises about 500 pages and is compiled for the use of collectors and inspectors of customs, shipping commissioners, the owners, masters, and agents of vessels, seamen, and others directly interested in vessels, their officers, crews, passengers, cargo, and navigation.