The Sea and The Sea Services

By Eric Kemmerer, VP Education

This purpose of this paper is to provide a brief overview of the importance of the sea and the sea services to America and Charleston. It will also discuss the different sea services and their impact in the Charleston area.

The Importance of the Sea

To appreciate the importance of the sea services, one must first appreciate the importance of the sea itself. The oceans of the world are of huge importance to both the world and to America. It should be remembered that ¾ of the world is covered by ocean and it is estimated that 60% of the worlds population lives within 60 miles of the ocean. Most of the world’s major cities are located along the coastline. Some 99.5% of the world’s cargo by weight is transported by ship (1). The oceans are a major source of the world’s food supply; in 2002 some 85 million tons of fish were harvested worldwide (2). The world’s oceans also provide a significant source of revenue from recreational uses. The sea is also of great importance militarily. A very large percentage of the world’s landmass is within 750 miles of an ocean. With modern missiles and carrier-borne aircraft the entire world is within reach of a modern Navy. Further, any major deployment of military forces outside of a nation’s own continent can only be sustained by sea. A 30-knot ship can out-ship by weight of cargo even the largest transport aircraft by a factor or 200:1 (1).

According to the Department of Transportation some 95% of overseas trade that comes both to and from the United States moves by ship, including the importation of 9 million barrels of oil daily. The ports and waterways of the U.S. contribute some $742 billion to the US gross domestic product and create employment for the more than 13 million individuals. Our ports and waterways handle some 2 billion tons of commerce while the cruise passenger industry took some 9.4 million passengers on 4,463 cruises for a total economic impact of $11.6 billion (3). American fishermen harvested some 5 million tons of seafood in 2002 (4). In addition billions are spent every year in the United States on recreational uses of the sea, be it sport fishing, boating, or water excursions.

As can be seen, control of the seas is vital to America, not just to protect our own economic interests, but to also project power aboard when needed. As mentioned above, even with modern aircraft, ocean shipping is vital to support military forces deployed overseas. For instance some 90% of all equipment and supplies for Desert Storm were shipped by sea (3). No large deployment of troops could be sustained without access to ocean shipping.

South Carolina also has a significant interest in the sea. In 2004 our ports served some 2,503 ships and barges. Our state ports handled some 1.86 million TEUs, or 20-ft equivalent container units, as well as another 1.8 million tons of non-container cargo. The total economic impact of the state ports is some $23 billion (5). The Port of Charleston also is host almost weekly to different international cruise ships. All together the international trade though the state ports provide over 280,000 jobs and $9.4 billion in wages to South Carolinians (5).

The Sea Services

Protecting and utilizing the oceans of the world on our behalf are the sea services, the Navy and Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, and the Merchant Marine. Together the sea services play significant role in nation defense, homeland security, law enforcement, protection of the environment, as well as making a very significant economic contribution to our nation’s wealth.

The Department of the Navy, which includes both the Navy and Marine Corps, has as its primary mission to maintain, train and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining the freedom of the seas. The Navy is tasked with maintaining surface, subsurface, and air forces sufficient to control the seas, while the Marine Corps provides the U.S. Fleet with a combined arms component, including air support, for the conduct of such land operations as may be essential to the prosecution of a naval campaign. The budget for FY 05 for the Department of the Navy is $119.4 billion. Currently the Navy has 365,900 active and 83,400 reserve service members. The Marine Corps has 175,000 active and 39,600 reserve service members. There are 175,900 and 17,500 civilian employees of the Navy and Marine Corps respectively. Currently there are approximately 290 ships in the U.S. Fleet, including 12 aircraft carriers, 14 ballistic missile submarines, 100 surface combatants, 59 submarines, and 36 amphibious warfare ships. At any given time about 1/3 of these ships will be deployed and about 50% will be underway (6).

The Coast Guard is a branch of the Department of Homeland Security and has five fundamental roles:

1) Maritime Safety: enforce maritime safety regulations and respond to calls for help at sea;

2) National Defense: defend the nation as one of the five U.S. armed services;

3) Maritime Security: protect the maritime boarders from smugglers, prevent illegal fishing, and enforce federal maritime law;

4) Mobility: facilitate maritime commerce and provide for efficient and economical movement of maritime traffic; and

5) Protection of National Resources: minimize environmental damage from maritime transportation, fishing, and recreational boating.

To accomplish these missions, the Coast Guard operates a wide verity of ships and vessels including 4 major icebreakers, 42 large cutters and around 100 small cutters. Its total budget is about $5.2 billion and employees 39,000 active duty and 8,100 reserve service members as well as 7,000 civilians (7).

The third component of the sea services is the US Merchant Marine. The Merchant Marine consists of privately owned, US Flag ships of 1,000GRT or more as well as the crews for ships operated by the Military Sealift Command (MSC) of the US Navy. Currently there are 121 privately owned ships in the Merchant Marine, including 72 tankers, 8 dry bulk carriers, 20 container ships, 15 roll-on/roll-off ships, 2 cruise ships, and 4 freighters (8). The MSC has about 95 vessels, excluding vessels in the National Reserve Fleet, all operated by US Merchant Marine crews (9).

The Local Impact

In terms of value of cargo handled, the Port of Charleston is 6th

most important port in the U.S., handling some $33 billion dollars in cargo in 2000 (10). In 2004 the port handled equivalent of 1.86 million 20ft containers and 607,000 tons of break-bulk cargo. It is the 4th busiest container port nationally and the largest in the Southeast. The Port is also host to numerous cruise ship visits; over 100,000 passengers visited Charleston in 2004. As by far the most significant of South Carolina’s ports, the Port of Charleston provides most of the estimated 281,660 jobs and $9.4 billion in wages generated by the different ports in South Carolina. In addition to the state run port there is a US Army port in Charleston as well. Both MSC ships and commercial vessels service this port. Available data from 2004 for US Army units supporting this port is that it is responsible for 1,071 jobs with a payroll of $24,127,000, plus the purchase of another $1,459,000 in goods and services (11).

The military sea services, the Navy and Coast Guard, are well represented in Charleston. Although there are no longer any US Navy Ships stationed in Charleston, the Navy still has a significant presence. Major commands are the Navy Weapons Station, Space and Warfare Systems Command, the Navy Nuclear Power Training Command, the Navy Nuclear Power Training Unit, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, the Consolidated Brig, and the Naval Hospital. In 2004 the Navy had 6,862 active duty and 387 reserve members station in the Charleston area and employed 3,058 civilian and another 6,279 contractor employees. The total local payroll for the Navy was over $1billion. It purchased some $900million in goods and services for a total economic impact in excess of $1.9billion (11).

In 2004 the Coast Guard locally employed 600 active duty and 137 reserve members and 35 civilians with a total payroll of $31,600,000 (11). There are two High Endurance Cutters; the USCGC DALLAS and GALLATIN, one Buoy Tender; the USCGC OAK, and three patrol boats; the USCGC ANVIL, YELLOW FIN, and TARPON, stationed in Charleston. Other major commands include Coast Guard Sector Charleston, the Southeast Fisheries Training Center, the Marine Safety Office, and the Maritime Law Enforcement School.

Although information concerning the local impact by the US Merchant Marine is not readily available, it is apparent that is substantial. The Merchant Marine is represented here in Charleston by a number of activities. First there is the Charleston Harbor Pilot Association. These pilots are responsible for the docking and un-docking of all the many ships that visit Charleston each year. There are also a number of tugboat operators in Charleston. There are at least 12 harbor tugs stationed in the port. MSC also maintains a number of Ready Reserve Force ships in Charleston. This is in addition to the privately owned US flagged ships and MSC vessels that visit the port each year.


It should be clear from this paper that the sea and sea services are of vital importance, militarily and economically, and for both America as well as to Charleston. It is critical that we support our sea services to ensure we can always enjoy unhindered access to the oceans.



USMC; The Importance of the Sea and Littoral Regions





U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the U.S.: 2004-2005


South Carolina Ports Fact Sheet


DON FY 05 Program and Budget Brief and Status of the Navy June 30, 2005



U.S. Maritime Administration, Office of Statistical & Economic Analysis




Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, 2004 Report on Military Impact in Charleston Metropolitan Area