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a water transport enterprise that conveys freight and passengers on transport vessels over sea routes (ocean steamship lines) and inland waterways (river and lake steamship lines). In the USSR, in addition to the fleet itself, ports and ship repair enterprises are also under the authority of steamship lines. In a number of countries the term “steamship company” is used.
In the river shipping fleets of the USA, pushed vessels are predominant; self-propelled vessels are little used. The Great Lakes steamship fleet of the USA and Canada consists mainly of self-propelled vessels. In the river shipping fleets of Western Europe, self-propelled vessels are prevalent on the principal rivers. Nonself-propelled craft are used chiefly on secondary rivers and canals. Steamship lines in the USSR and other socialist countries of Europe use self-propelled vessels and towed and pushed craft. Shipping lines in the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and many developing countries use sailing and rowing vessels, in addition to ships with engines.
Vessels of ocean and river steamship lines are classed according to use as cargo ships, passenger-cargo ships, and passenger liners. The overwhelming majority of steamship lines are not specialized and will transport any type of cargo, and some lines will also carry passengers. Oceangoing steamship lines provide either regular, or line, services, with scheduled sailings on specific sea routes, or tramp services in which the freight owner charters a vessel from the steamship line and delivers the cargo to any port on any sea route. Only a few ocean steamship lines are limited to line shipping. Many steamship lines operate both liners and tramp steamers, and others operate only tramp steamer services, which account for the larger portion of maritime freight traffic. General-purpose transport enterprises predominate among river and ocean steamship lines.
In the USSR, steamship lines are organized according to geographical features, such as sea basins and maritime coastal areas and basins of river systems. In 1973 there were 18 oceangoing steamship lines. They are managed by three associations—the Northwestern Fleet (Sevzapflot), with the Baltic and Northern basins; the Southern Fleet (Iuzhflot), with the Black Sea-Azov and Caspian basins; and the Far Eastern Fleet (Dal’flot). The Southern Fleet includes, in particular, the Danube Steamship Line, which provides oceangoing, river, and combined services on the Danube. There are 33 river steamship lines and river transport administrations in the USSR, of which the 20 river steamship lines are in the RSFSR, including the specialized steamship line Volgotanker, which carries only liquid cargo. In the other Union republics there are transport administrations. The Amur, Northwestern, White Sea-Onega, Western, Volga-Don, and Volgotanker steamship lines also carry mixed cargoes in river and ocean traffic between domestic and foreign ports. The major steamship lines of the USSR exceed most capitalist steamship lines in vessel tonnage and amount of cargo shipped.
Steamship lines of the USSR are self-financed state enterprises with an independent balance sheet, which operate according to regulations approved by the Ministry of Merchant Marine of the USSR or the respective republic ministry of the river fleet. Steamship lines organize the carriage of passengers and freight between populated areas and basin ports on the basis of a state transport plan. They also fulfill planned tasks in respect to foreign trade transshipments between ports of the USSR and ports of other countries, as well as the shipment of cargoes of foreign charterers between foreign ports on international sea routes. The steamship lines also take steps to develop water transport, improve waterways, reconstruct ports in their respective basins, and provide regular technical maintenance of vessels and port equipment.
Steamship lines of capitalist countries, unlike railroad and air transport companies, are not affected to a large degree by the process of nationalization. They are also lagging behind the railroad companies and airlines in level of concentration, but they are far ahead of the motor vehicle transport companies. However, the concentration of steamship lines is considerably higher than it was before World War II. Thus, for example, in 1973, 24 major steamship lines of Great Britain owned 70 percent of the British fleet tonnage, and eight principal steamship lines of Japan held 55 percent of the Japanese fleet tonnage. In 1973 the number of steamship lines in the capitalist and developing countries totaled approximately 3,000, including 2,500 ocean lines. Most have several vessels; the smallest has one ship, and the largest, hundreds of vessels.
Although numerous steamship lines operating within the same basin and serving the same regular shipping lines compete fiercely with each other in the charter markets, most of the capitalist steamship lines are joined together into relatively few groups by financial, technical, and economic ties. A still broader form of association of the oceangoing lines of a single basin, even of those belonging to different countries, constitutes what are called shipping conferences, which regulate the charter conditions and policies of the conference-member steamship lines.
L. I. VASILEVSKIJ