National Merchant Marine Binnacle

During the Colony foreign trading was a exclusive monopoly of the Spanish Crown. The external interchange was made by the complex and delaying via Panama-Callao and the shipping activity was reserved to only satisfy the interests with the “Virreinato de Lima”.

The previous things left the Kingdom of Chile limited to a simple carrying of loads among the incipients ports, the artisan fishing and the illicit smuggling activities, everything which was framed in an almost nonexistent conscience and maritime interest.

In the weak beginnings of the Old Mother country the Liberator Don Bernardo O´Higgins, with 32 years of age, impelled Don Juan Martinez de Rozas, member of the Governing body, to adopt two essential measures, they were to create a National Congress and to decree the freedom of commerce. One of the first measures of the Governing body, the 21st. of February 1811, was to decree the freedom of foreign trading to all the friends flags in the great ports of the country such as Coquimbo, Valparaiso, Talcahuano and Valdivia, opening them to the world-wide commerce and lapsing the prohibition of the “ Spanish Corona” in such sense. Before this situation, Peru´s Viceroy, Fernando de Abascal (1811-1812), armed privateers to block the ports and to prevent the free commerce; the fear went beyond the commercial activity, because the idea was to prevent the entrance of libertarian ideas proposed by the French Revolution and weapons smuggling.

In 1813, as a consequence of the Viceroy´s attitude the First Governing body decided to organize a naval defence, so they comissioned the Governor of Valparaiso, “ Don Francisco de la Lastra to make some acquisitions because there did not exist any fighting elements. “ De la Lastra, educated in the Spanish Navy, rented a North American frigate, “Perla” and bought a bergantine , “Potrillo”, arming them with guns and rifles. Spain had imposed from the time of the conquest, the monopoly of the marine commerce to ships of that nationality. The Chilean Nation, that was in formation, did not counted yet with an own Merchant marine that could provide the necessary ships for that intention.

In 1813 the decision of reducing the customs rights to the merchandise that arrived in ships of Chilean flag , to ships whose crews were composed by two thirds of chileans, to ships bought in the outside and the incomes to maintain their operation was taken. But all these efforts did not give the expected results, because the risk factor was too great for the financers, because the Spanish fleet of the Pacific was still undamaged. For these reasons, the Government of “General O’Higgins” had to buy with many sacrifices and efforts the necessary ships for the magnanimous enterprise of freeding Perú and to contract foreign crews , who not all the times fulfilled the duties for which they had been hired. Within this context, the first patent of granted navigation was assigned on the 26th. of June 1818, to the frigate “Gertrudis de la Fortuna” whose shipbuilder was Don Francisco Ramirez. In this date, the day of the National Merchant marine is celebrated at the present time.

On the same time the Shipping Company of Calcuta was based, whose ships united our coasts with those of India and China in remote Asia, taking our pavilion and opening us to the world. That situation led that in the middle of 1819, in Valparaiso it was easy to find a high number of great ships dedicated to loading and unloading tasks in his wharves. During the war against the Peruvian –Bolivian Confederation the problem of not counting with an own Merchant marine arose again but in a smaller scale, since some companies that operated ships in freighting and trips to Asia and to the western coast of the American continent existed, thanks to tributary exemptions promulgated in 1834 in order to stimulate the Merchant marine.

In spite of the previous thing, the Government had problems again to acquire ships to be able to take the expeditions of Admiral Manuel Blanco Encalada and General Manuel Bulnes to Peru, because many national ships had changed of flag due to the fear of the shipping companies of a possible loss. Nevertheless, many of these were available in the country, due to a new special treatment for the promulgated Merchant marine in 1836, which already constituted a fundamental difference with respect to the times of O’Higgins. Passed the conflict, one decade later, we found a Merchant marine, that actively transported merchandise to California, a place where the gold fever attracted thousands of people from different nationalities and origins. Our Merchant marine contributed with many of its one hundred nineteen ships to maintain the Californian miners provided with necessary articles for its subsistence.