The Ship Structure Committee formed since 1943 at the recommendation of the
Board of Investigation whose charter was to determine the causes of the brittle fracture
experienced by welded merchant ships during World War II.
"Early in the war, welded merchant vessels experienced difficulties in the form of fractures
which could not be explained. The fractures, in many cases, manifested themselves with
explosive suddenness and exhibited a quality of brittleness which was not ordinarily
associated with the behavior of a normally ductile material such as ship steel. It was evident
that the implications of these failures on welded ships might be far-reaching and have a
significant effect upon the war effort. In 1943, the Secretary of the Navy - James Forrestal,
pursuant to his responsibility through the Coast Guard for certificating vessels in accordance
with the Marine Inspection Laws of the United States, established a Board of Investigation to
Inquire into the Design and Methods of Construction of Welded Steel Merchant Vessels."
(footnote above) The Board was composed of the Engineer-in-Chief, United States Coast Guard -
Rear Admiral Harvey Johnson; the Chief of the Bureau of Ships, United States Navy - Vice
Admiral E. L. Cochrane; the Vice Chairman of the United States Maritime Commission - Captain
T. L. Schumacher; and the Chief Surveyor of the American Bureau of Shipping - Mr. David
Some interesting findings of the Board:
- 4,694 welded steel merchant vessels were built by the Maritime Commission in the United
- States and considered in this investigation;
- 970 of these vessels suffered casualties involving fractures;
- 24 vessels sustained a complete fracture of the strength deck;
- 1 vessel sustained a complete fracture of the bottom;
- 8 vessels were lost, 4 broke in two and 4 were abandoned after fracture occurred, 4
additional vessels broke in two, but were not lost;
- the highest incidence of fracture occurred under the combination of low temperatures and
- every fracture examined started in a geometrical discontinuity or notch resulting from
unsuitable design or poor workmanship.
As a result of these findings, there were a number of recommendations related to overcoming
this brittle fracture phenomena which were "successfully" incorporated into the design and
construction methodologies of these merchant steel vessels. However, the
final recommendation of the Board was the impetus for this Committee and it reads as follows: "It is
hereby recommended that an organization be established to formulate and coordinate research
in matters pertaining to ship structure in the same manner as has been the practice during the
tenure of the Board."(same footnote) Therefore the Ship Structure Committee was born in 1946.
Since its inception, the Ship Structure Committee has worked diligently to sponsor and
coordinate research and development projects and to provide industry with useable tools to
improve ship design, construction, operation, inspection, maintenance and repair
methodologies. The Committee membership has changed somewhat over the years. Initially
composed of the USCG, ABS, USN, MARAD and the Military Sealift Command only a few years
later, it has included the U. S. Army, Minerals Management Service, and Geological Survey.
Currently, the Committee is composed of seven member agencies; ABS, MARAD, Military Sealift
Command, NAVSEA Structures, Canadian Defense Research Establishment Atlantic (since
1994), Transport Canada (since 1993), the U. S. Coast Guard (Chair) and The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers.