What is MARAD?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2019
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MARAD, or the United States Maritime Administration, is an agency that operates under the auspices of the US Department of Transportation. This US department of maritime administration is responsible for several functions. Chief among them is the maintenance of the National Defense Reserve Fleet or NDRF, which serves as an emergency source of ships and as a backup to the military forces of the country.

MARAD has its roots in the old US Maritime Commission. When the commission was discontinued in 1950, the responsibilities previously associated with that agency were divided between the US Federal Maritime Board and the Maritime Administration. The Board was partially integrated into the newly formed Federal Maritime Commission, created in 1961. Eventually, all the various functions of the old US Maritime Commission were once again bundled under MARAD in 1981 and the agency was assigned to the US Department of Transportation.

In addition to maintaining a backup fleet of ships and providing support to the military, MARAD also is responsible for the management of financial programs that help to promote, develop maritime service in the United States. One of the ways these tasks are supported is by the sponsorship of educational opportunities on both a federal and state level. MARAD oversees the one federal maritime academy currently in operation in the United States, as well as the administration of financial aid programs that allow interested and qualified persons to attend maritime academies operated by individual states.


As part of the process for maintaining ships that can be called into service in emergency situations, MARAD has established contracts with a number of US based commercial ship owners. The contracts essentially allow MARAD the ability to press the ships into use if a national emergency is declared. At the end of 2007, this type of contractual arrangement provided MARAD with access to roughly sixty different cargo ships that are owned and operated by US based commercial shippers, and are currently used for commercial purposes.


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