Coast Guard Took Up Merchant Vessel Inspection Duties 75 Years Ago

The Coast Guard celebrates an anniversary this July that is significant for merchant mariners.

It was on July 16, 1946, that the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, which had formerly handled merchant marine vessel documentation and inspection duties, was formally abolished by Reorganization Plan III of 1946. 

The Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation had been established in the Department of the Treasury by an act of May 27, 1936 (49 Stat. 1380). It inherited the functions of the Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection, Department of Commerce. The bureau enforced laws relating to the construction, safety, operation, equipment, inspection and documentation of merchant vessels. It investigated marine casualties and enforced navigation laws. It collected tonnage taxes and other navigation fees. The bureau also examined, certified and licensed merchant vessel personnel.

Its duties were formally transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard by Executive Order 9083 on February 28, 1942, but the reorganization plan made the change permanent.

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Vessel inspections, first required by an Act of Congress on July 7, 1838 (5 Stat. 304), were originally performed by engineers specially appointed by U.S. district court judges. The Steamboat Act (10 Stat. 61) of August 30, 1852, formally established the Steamboat Inspection Service in the Department of the Treasury and authorized the appointment of supervising steam vessel inspectors, who collectively constituted the Board of Supervising Inspectors. 

An act of February 28, 1871 (16 Stat. 458), authorized the appointment of a Supervising Inspector General for the Steamboat Inspection Service. Steamboat Inspection Service transferred to the Department of Commerce and Labor by act of February 14, 1903 (32 Stat. 825), and to the Department of Commerce by act of March 4, 1913 (37 Stat. 736). The office was combined with the Bureau of Navigation to form the Bureau of Navigation and Steamboat Inspection by act of June 30, 1932 (47 Stat. 415). It was renamed the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation in 1936.