The pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama has spawned questions about why a Maersk ship is flying the U.S. flag.
When most people think of Maersk, they think of Maersk Line, the international container carrier owned by A.P. Moller-Maersk, based in Denmark. The Maersk Alabama is owned and operated by a separate A.P. Moller subsidiary, Maersk Line Ltd. (Note the "Ltd.").
Maersk Line Ltd., based in Norfolk, is a U.S. citizen company that is qualified to operate U.S.-flag ships and receive operating subsidies under the Maritime Security Program. The company is the largest participant in MSP, which is overseen by the U.S. Maritime Administration and covers a total of 60 ships.
MSP participants agree to operate their ships under the U.S. flag, hire U.S. crews and make their vessels and others assets available for military purposes. In return, the carriers receive subsidies that help offset the higher costs of U.S. operations. More important, as U.S.-flag carriers they are eligible to carry government cargo such as military shipments and the relief shipments that were aboard the Maersk Alabama.
Marsk Line Ltd. has participated in MSP since the subsidy program was established in 1996, but the company's U.S.-flag operations date to World War II, when the company made its vessels available to the United States after Denmark was occupied by Germany.