Andrew E. Gibson: A Life Dedicated To Maritime

Thursday, August 16, 2001
Andrew Edward Gibson died on July 8, 2001, at the age of 79 in Short Hills, New Jersey. His final decade, after a life of notably active achievements, had been primarily devoted to scholarship, at the Naval War College where he taught, and in work with Kings Point Professor Arthur Donovan, in the preparation of a history of United States maritime policy, published in 1999 as The Abandoned Ocean, and of a to-be-published history of containerization. Gibson was born on February 19, 1922 in New York City, and entered the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 1940. He graduated two years later to be among the first Americans to sail in the North Atlantic convoys. By January 1945 he was in command of his own Liberty ship at age 22. He came ashore and was graduated from Brown University with honors in economics in 1951. Called to active duty in the Korean War, he was assigned to the newly created Military Sea Transport Service. Returning to civilian, status he joined Grace Line, where as operations vice president and then as senior vice president he participated in the container In September 1968, in Seattle, Washington, the soon-to-be president Richard Nixon outlined a maritime program for "Restoring the U.S. to the Role of a First-Rate Maritime Power." Seapower is the ability of a nation to project into the oceans, in times of peace, its economic strength; in times of emergency, its defense mobility. Seapower is composed of all of those elements enabling a nation to use the ocean advantageously for either trade or defense -- its navy, its merchant shipping, its shipbuilding, its fisheries, its oceanographic research, and its port facilities. Gibson was appointed Maritime Administrator in March 1969 to implement this maritime program. By May, the outlines of the legislation were completed. In the Administration review that followed, the Departments of State and Treasury, the Council of Economic Advisors and the Bureau of the Budget (the forerunner of OMB) opposed the program. The President and Gibson believed that the program addressed the problems that the nation faced. It was introduced as an Administration proposal in October 1969. Hearings were held in 1969 and during the summer of 1970. The program was enacted with only two dissenting votes, one in the House and one in the Senate, and became law in October, as the Merchant Marine Act of 1970. The 1970 Act stimulated the largest private shipbuilding program in U.S. history. Shipbuilders spent over a billion dollars on capital improvements to their yards between 1970 and 1975. The stimulus continued into the Administrations of Presidents Ford and Carter. In her end-of the year report in June 1979, the secretary of commerce was able to advise the president: "New merchant vessels under construction or on order at private American shipyards on September 30, 1978, totaled 48 (with a contract value of $3 billion) . . . second only to Japan among the world's shipbuilding nations. Twenty new vessels were delivered by private U.S. yards in this reporting period. These Nixon Administration 1970 Act programs were achieving their objectives, when, in 1981, the Reagan Administration terminated all vessel construction subsidy funding, and ceased executing operating subsidy contracts. Major shipyards, which had been their state's principal private-sector employers, Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point (Maryland), General Dynamics Quincy (Massachusetts), Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock (Pennsylvania), were closed. Our major U.S. flag carriers ceased to new make new vessel investments. One after another they ceased operations under the U.S. Flag. The foreign trade operations of two largest remaining carriers, American President Lines, Inc., and Sea Land Services Company, were sold to non-citizen purchasers in the late 1997 and 1999. Today only the Title VI and Title XI portions of the 1970 Act program remain. Now, the Bush Administration Office of Management and Budget proposes the termination of these two programs. The Bush Administration's Budget provides no funding for the Title XI program and apparently contemplates the transfer of the Title VI program to the Treasury Department where it will be discontinued. On June 2l, 2001, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Governor Thomas Ridge joined Keystone Shipping Company and Kvaerner Philadelphia Shipyard officers in announcing the shipyard's first commercial order, an agreement to build four new oil product tankers, to be financed with 1970 Act Title XI guarantees. Declaring that "shipbuilding has been revived in Philadelphia," the governor said that this revival would return 7,000 to 8,000 high paying manufacturing jobs to the Delaware Valley. After leaving the Maritime Administration Gibson served Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Domestic and International Affairs, as president of IOT Corporation from 1973-75, president of Maher Terminals from 1975-77, president of Delta Steamship Lines Line from 1979-82, and as chairman of American Automar from 1983-99. Few would question that Gibson's service as Maritime Administrator, and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Maritime Affairs, in overcoming the difficulties which he faced in the implementation of the Nixon maritime program would stand as the the high point of most careers. What memorial shall we propose for Andrew Edward Gibson?
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