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Memoirs of Robert Dollar
Vol. 2 - Chapter Five

In January 1919 I addressed a meeting of the merchants and manufacturers in Los Angeles at their urgent request at which there were four hundred present. The Foreign Trade Committee of the Chamber of Commerce was also present.


The question that is troubling all thinking men today is: How are we going to operate our ships after the war? Seeing that in normal times our present laws and regulations make it a financial impracticability, we must not be carried away with the present abnormal condition and rates of freight, which make it quite possible for anyone to make a profit, no matter how inexperienced. So all the figures and considerations in this article are based on normal conditions which are sure to come after the war.

So that you may fully understand the folly of our past legislation, I herewith give you a copy of a diagram prepared by Mr. P. W. II. Ross, showing the percentage of American goods carried in American ships in years gone by.

This was during the period of preferential duties.

Another illustration that would not be out of place here is one showing the conditions on the Pacific Ocean up to May, 1917. In 1913, before the war and before the Seamen's Bill had gotten in its deadly work, Japanese vessels in American trade on the Pacific were, 26.05%; American vessels, 26.10%.

After May 1, 1917, Japanese vessels increased their trade to 50.90%, while the trade of American vessels (as a result of the Seamen's Bill) fell off to 1.97%.

The following records, taken from our books, is the cost, per month of the crew's wages on three steamers which we were operating in 1914. The indicated horsepower of the vessels was exactly the same and the tonnage nearly the same. The difference in man power is due to governmental regulation: American steamer, 47 men, $3270; British steamer, 36 men. $1308; Japanese steamer, 36 men, $777.

On the Pacific the keen competition Americans have to meet is from the Japanese, and after the war this competition wiill also be felt oil the Atlantic. The foregoing figures give a good idea of what our handicaps are. Japanese shipowners made enormous profits during the war; therefore, competition with the Japanese will be backed by plenty of money on their side, in addition to their having subsidies for shipbuilding and for carrying the mails, and other advantages that American shipowners must combat. There is some talk of our government chartering its ships to individuals after the war and not selling them. This will be a fatal mistake. The men, who in the past developed American and British foreign trade, were shipowners. Ship charterers having no money invested, will operate the ships only as long as they can make a profit. Responsible shipowners will keep up the business even at a loss, and stay with the business until times get better, thereby keeping up the foreign trade of our country.

At a banquet in Philadelphia the Secretary of the Navy announced the contemplated extension of government ownership, to own and operate American ships and to engage in foreign trade; thereby destroying the private ownership of ships and going into competition against our merchants in the foreign trade. (Our Government has already started to trade commercially, I understand, in Siberia.) The result of this policy would be to destroy the initiative,' "pep" and "getup" of our merchants in that trade and the few shipowners we have left; and this while we are on the even of the keenest competition the world has ever seen. Then, in addition to all this, we were told that the rates of freight would be lower than those of our foreign competitors. (The foreigners will have something to say about the rates.) In as much as we are in direct competition m our foreign trade, and as our country is going to require this trade as never before, it is the opinion of our bankers, merchants and the people generally that the administration has another guess coming before it will be permitted to carry out such a destructive and disastrous policy.

I suggest that, instead of government ownership, the ships should be sold at prices to meet competition and on reasonable terms of payment, so as to encourage the ownership of ships by men of moderate means.

Example: Government ships should be sold at the current price of similar ships and on the same terms prevailing in London; one quarter cash, one-quarter in one, two and three years, with interest at 4% per annum, and when the various payments fall due the amount to be paid shall be the price prevailing then in London, thereby putting our shipowner on an exact equality with our foreign competitors as to the first cost of the ship. In other words, keeping the cost of the ships so bought equal to the cost of foreign ships while the owner is paying for them. 'The difference in cost to the Government and the amount sold for, to be charged to the cost of the war, the same as ammunition, etc.

Wages: As explained, the wages of the crew is a very important matter; and, as the American cannot be brought down to the level of his foreign competitior, any more than the foreigner can be raised to the level of the American, the American will, as a consequence, leave the sea unless he can get about the same wages as he would receive on shore. I offer as a solution of this condition, that shipowners hire their crews at full American wages, but that the difference between this wage and what is paid by Japanese competitors be paid by the Government to shipowners on proper certification by the shipping commissioner of the amounts so paid.

As for example, if the wages of the American seaman is $60 per month, that of the Japanese seaman $15 per month, then have the United States Government pay the $45 per month difference. This will enable American labor to receive its full wage and permit the American ship to compete with its foreign rivals in trade with their lower paid crews. This is no subsidy to shipowners, but only an equalization of American vs. foreign labor.

To those who are not familiar with the custom I would explain that when a man hires to work on a ship he must go before a United States commissioner and sign the articles of contract, which is explained to the man by the commissioner. Then, when the voyage is ended, the shipowner does not pay off the crew, but takes the money to the commissioner, who pays the men. By this arrangement the men would receive the full American wages, and such fine young Americans as are now being trained in great numbers would be sure to continue to follow the sea, if the entire crew of a ship were composed of Americans. And especially if that vicious clause in the Seamen's Act is abrogated, which provides that 65% of the crew must be certificated able seamen; no other nation calls for such regulations, and, if it were enforced, would tie up half of our ships, as there are not nearly enough of so-called able seamen to man half our vessels.

The manner of licensing our officers must also be modified so as to be the same as our competitors.

In ships running to the tropics, Americans will not stand the work in the hot fireroom. and in that trade it is also a question if Americans would work in the steward's department. All American owners have had this experience. American sailors on deck, however, get along all right. Outside of the equalization of wages of the men, and the proper payment for service rendered in carrying the mails, I claim that to maintain American ships on the ocean no other financial assistance by the Government is required.

But our laws and regulations must be radically changed, not in such a way as to give shipowners any advantage over their competitors, but to put our ships on an exact footing with those of all other nations. To do this it will not cost our country a cent, except in equalizing wages.

Following are some of the changes in our laws that are necessary. For example, the standard steamer of 8800 tons deadweight, of which scores are being built for the Shipping Board.

The steamer Robert Dollar, of which all these are duplicates, according to British measurement, has a net tonnage of 3420 tons; under American measurement she will average net 4283 tons, a difference of 863 tons. Since all port charges, pilotage, drydocking, etc., are based on the net tonnage of a vessel, the American ship in foreign trade pays 25% more than the ships of any other nation; and, since this is paid in foreign ports and to foreign nations, is it not up to Congress to tell us why our ships are thus penalized?

(Note—The laws of Great Britian and ours, as to measurement, are about the same, but in the application of the law there is a difference. The fact remains, however, that the actual difference is as stated.)

(Note—In November, 1921, it is reported that the American Government has at last capitulated and changed its form of measurement to correspond with the British method. It has taken twenty-five years to accomplish this reform.)

In an address delivered by Colonel Goethals in San Francisco we were told of two sister ships, one under the British flag and the other under the American flag. The latter paid $500 more tolls than the Britisher. I would again ask Congress, why? In this connection it might be pertinent to ask why an American ship carrying a cargo of lumber pays more tolls than a ship carrying merchandise, coal or iron.

Under American regulations, the ship must be free of cargo, and the boilers filled with cold water; therefore, handling of cargo must be suspended, and the inspection must be completed before work is again resumed. On British ships no work stops. One part of the inspection is finished; then, when another part of the hull, boilers or engines is ready, that is inspected, and if the inspection cannot be completed the vessel is allowed to proceed to the next port, where it can be finished. The instructions to the inspector are, not to stop the ordinary work of handling cargo. In the successful operation of ships, one of the most important factors is then quick dispatch in port.

The American regulations require a cold water hydrostatic pressure, once and a half the working pressure, to be applied to the boilers once a year; this racks the boilers and piping, causes much expense and shortens the life of the boilers. This method is not required annually by any other nation, and they have no more explosions of boilers than those inspected under the American plan. American rules require a fusible plug in each boiler. This is not required by any other government. The loss of time and expense to American ships is considerable. Again I ask, why? Especially, when no benefit is derived by this loss of time or money. In my opinion, more inspectors should be employed and the regulations entirely changed, thus enabling our ships to gain much valuable time.

Secretary Redfield, under whose jurisdiction this comes, has said that Americans are able to and can do more and better work than any other workmen, and fully pay their employers for their higher wages and better board. Therefore, it is again quite pertinent to ask why, on a 10,000-tons deadweight American steamer, it takes 30% more men than on a similar sized steamer of any other nation? On a ship of this class the British require two licensed engineers, where the American requires four; and, in addition to this, the American requires three oilers and three water tenders. Ordinarily on foreign ships the storekeeper, donkeyman and a greaser do the work of the oilers, and no water tenders are carried. In fact, the name of water tender is unknown. At an investigation of a committee of the House, 1 was asked what the water tender did. I replied he sat on a box in the fireroom and did nothing but draw his wages and eat his meals.

Now we come to that clause in the Seamen's Bill which states that 75% of the crew, in each department, shall be able to understand any order the officers may give. This prevents


American ships from carrying 75% foreigners who do not understand the English language. This is intended to prevent the carrying of Chinese crews on American ships, which it is necessary for us to do if we desire to successfully compete with the Japanese. But, the Bill does not prevent Japanese ships from carrying Japanese crews with Japanese officers; hence, another reason that has been instrumental in placing the Japanese of to day in full control of the commerce of the Pacific ocean. Another clause to which I refer provides that 65% of the crew, exclusive of officers and apprentices, shall be certificated able seamen. This portion of the law was so impossible of execution and so unreasonable (because the men were not obtainable), that no notice has been taken of it during the war. When peace comes, however, it may be enforced, and will result in the tying up of half of our merchant marine.

Another clause in the Bill provides that a collector of customs may, on his own motion, and shall upon the sworn information of any reputable citizen, deny clearance and hold a ship until an investigation is made. So any waterfront sorehead can hold up any ship. This is so drastic and vicious that it also has not been enforced: but it is the law nevertheless.

Another clause provides that a seaman can demand and shall receive half of the wages he has earned (note the word "earned''- not "due," as it should be,) at every port the ship goes to, and every succeeding five days he can make other demands. This has done more harm to the few American ships that were left than anything else, as it gave to the men money to keep them in a drunken state. The police records of various ports where American ships have gone, especially Shanghai, Kobe and Yokohama, bear ample proof of the bad effect of this law. The intention of this clause was, to allow the men to draw their wages and desert; but it did not work that way, although it causes serious delay to a ship at almost every port. This must be repealed.

The sailors shall be divided into two watches. On many ships a big crew is carried and enough men to navigate the ship are put on "watch and watch." The balance of the crew sleeps all night and works all day, the object being to get the day crew to keep the ship in good condition. If this section was enforced, a ship would have to carry a smaller crew and let the keeping up of the vessel go, as men cannot do any work at night except that which is necessary in handling the ship.

This Bill is entitled "to promote the welfare of American seamen." The inspector's records of San Francisco, shortly after it became a law, show that of 2064 men, 8% were American born, 17% naturalized citizens, and 75% were aliens. An American steamer cleared recently from San Francisco with a crew composed of three Hollanders, four Greeks, one Swede, two Irishmen, three Englishmen, one Australian and three Americans. What a joke, calling them Americans!

The clauses in the Bill providing for greater safety of life at sea and having better accommodations for the crew should be retained (except the absurdities relating to davits and lifeboats on cargo vessels, which have never been enforced). The American ships built recently have excellent acommodations and leave nothing more to be desired, and the food served to American crews is much better than that served on board of ships of any other nation—in fact, it is as good as I have at my home.

The foregoing are only the most vicious parts of the Bill, and only a few of the many changes that must be made to put us on an equality. Other parts of the Bill against foreign ships will, no doubt, be attended to by foreign nations after the war.

The President said that if American shipowners could not operate ships the Government would operate them. This statement is on a par with tying our hands securely behind our backs and putting us in the prize ring against an opponent with both hands free and backed by his government.

The answer to this is, that American citizens before the war were successfully operating 2,500,000 tons of ships under foreign flags. Those same men would be only too glad to operate them under the Stars and Stripes if our laws and regulations would only permit them.

More foreign trade is conceded to be an absolute necessity after the war; therefore, it is well to remind the people of the United States that our foreign trade is so linked with our merchant marine that they cannot he separated. This is also true of our manufacturing plants, banks, merchants and fanners. The ramifications of this subject are so great that, directly or indirectly, they affect every American citizen. Therefore, the time has come to demand the necessary legislation and regulation to put the operation of our ships on an exact equality with those of our competitors. Nothing else will do.

We certainly want some ordinary common sense injected into our laws. Surely the Government will see that our useless and oppressive laws and regulations will be changed, in view of the fact that when the reconstruction period is over we will have nearly as big a merchant marine as Great Britain. If these changes are not made, we will see our merchant marine melt away, as shown in the diagram from 1810 to 1914.

Had a very enjoyable Sunday on the second of February, 1919, when Grace's son and Stanley's daughter were baptized in the church at San Rafael. They were named Alexander Melville Dickson and Diana Dollar respectively.

In April I attended the meeting of the Foreign Trade Convention in Chicago, and addressed a very enthusiastic gathering at which about two thousand were present. The subject was "Our Merchant Marine,"

I arranged to establish an office in Chicago, the principal object being to solicit and collect freight for our trans-Pacific steamers. This office has been a success, so we have considerably enlarged its scope by soliciting freight from many cities for both Vancouver and New York.

I bought five acres of land in Oakland for the Occidental Board to be used for the bringing up and the education of small boys and girls of Chinese parentage. Suitable buildmgs will be erected in due course. This work is ably carried on under the direction of Miss Donaldine Cameron.

I was recently elected president of the Pacific American Steamship Association, and although I am really overburdened with work, accepted the responsibility as I felt sure the association would do a good work in getting all the companies to pull together and present a solid front. This also had the effect of getting the Shipowners' Association to work in with it so that all the shipowners now present a solid front to obtain what is right. Then they both, are working in harmony with the American Steamship Company of New York, so that all the organizations are working together.

About this time we decided to purchase some more steamers, so Melville and I went across the continent from Vancouver to Sydney, Nova Scotia, where the steamer War Melodv was about to arrive, and we wanted an opportunit to inspect her. She is a vessel of 10,760 tons deadweight, and came near to our requirements, so we bought her and renamed her Grace Dollar. While she is not exactly our style of ship, she has turned out entirely satisfactory. This I learned by sailing on her for over a month in the Far East.

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