Federation Merchant Marines

Created by Commander Jesse Temple on Mon Jul 11th, 2016 @ 1:28pm

This article was taken from The Price of Freedom, a LUG RPG supplement.


Not every ship traversing Federation space belongs to Starfleet. In fact, most of the craft in the Federation are personal, commercial, or scientific vessels, not the exploration and defense ships of Starfleet. Compared to, for example, Romulans or Cardassians, citizens of the Federation have virtually unrestricted freedom to travel the galaxy and see its sights.

The Federation Merchant Marine comprises by far the largest fleet of non-Starfleet vessels. An important part of the Federation economy, it is directed by the Federation government itself, not Starfleet. It performs many diverse tasks which, while often not as glamorous as the jobs assigned to a Starfleet starship, are equally vital to the prosperity and even to the continued existence of the Federation. It carries cargo from one planet to another, transports passengers, helps keep colonies supplied, and transports and sells certain types of goods to non-member planets.

The Nature of the Organization

The Federation Merchant Marine was founded shortly after the Federation itself was created. Although the Federation Constitution did not specifically provide for a merchant marine, its provisions on economic matters did grant the Federation Council broad powers "to maintain the economic health and strength of the Federation and all of its members." One of the many things the Council did with these powers was to establish the Merchant Marine.

Historically, the broad term "merchant marine" means the commercial or mercantile fleet of a nation, whether owned directly by that nation of by its citizens. In the spacefaring age, it includes the commercial starships of a particular species, planet, or government, and it is of course this aspect of commerce with which the Federation was primarily concerned when it established the Federation Merchant Marine. Individual planetary surface merchant marines do not fall within the Federation's jurisdiction, and neither do the individual starfaring merchant marines of the Federation's members.

The Andorian Merchant Marine remains the largest and most professional of these, with a tradition extending back to the days of the Earth-Romulan War. Many Andorian Merchant Marine crewmen joined the new Federation Merchant Marine, giving it a cadre of experienced captains and engineers during the early crises of the Klingon wars and the Axanarian secession. Grandsons and granddaughters of these captains served the Federation well during the emergency mobilizations against the Borg, the immense human crises of the Cardassian border relocation, and the more conventional support roles during the Tholian War. This tradition still holds strongly enough that even human and Tellarite crewmen enlist in the Andorian Merchant Marine in hopes of being able to join the Federation Merchant Marine some day.

The Role of the Merchant Marine

The Federation has always recognized a need to transport certain goods, or goods in bulk. Transporter and replicator technologies, marvels that they are of modern society, do not remove the need to move various types of goods, or large amounts of goods, across space. First, the range of transporters is limited. Federation space is hundreds of light-years across, and even the best cargo transporters only have a range of about 40,000 kilometers. Second, the amount of material which can be transported at any one time is limited, as is the size of the object to be transported; only a few very large planet-based transporters are capable of transporting extremely large objects (such as some vehicles). Third, not every person or every planet has access to transporters - although they are not rare, they are not ubiquitous either. This reasoning also applies to replicator technology, though large-scale industrial replicators are more common than large transporters (and, of course, there are some goods which some people prefer not to replicate, as discussed below).

What this means is that there are many occasions when the Federation, or someone within the Federation, needs to transport goods, products, or people in the old-fashioned way - by loading them onto a ship and carrying them to where they need to go. Starfleet's ships could handle such tasks, but only do so in the gravest of emergencies. At any other time, that's where the Federation Merchant Marine comes in. Carrying cargo and passengers is its job. As such it forms a vital economic link between many members of the Federation, and acts as a lifeline to distant colonies and outposts which would otherwise have, at best, a very difficult time getting the supplies they need.

However, the Federation Merchant Marine should not be mistaken for a profit-driven private mercantile enterprise; it's far from that. The reason some of those worlds and far-flung colonies sometimes have difficulty obtaining goods is that merchants who work for profit do not find it profitable to visit them. Either they are too far away, or there aren't enough customers, or whatever it is they need is not profitable enough to make it worth a private merchant's time to visit them. But the Federation Merchant Marine, operated under the auspices of the Federation, is able to visit anyone or any planet and bring what is needed to survive and thrive. The Federation Merchant Marine isn't concerned with profit; instead, it focuses on providing needed goods to Federation citizens, and on keeping vital colonies supplied.

The Federation Merchant Marine and Starfleet

As one might expect, the Merchant Marine enjoys good relations with Starfleet. In essence the two complement each other. While Starfleet does on occasion transport goods or personnel (especially those which are dangerous, or which are going to particularly dangerous areas), it is primarily engaged in missions of exploration, scientific investigation, and defense. Its ships are not set up to carry large amounts of cargo or passengers. That's what the Merchant Marine is for; Starfleet's highly trained personnel can be put to better uses. Unless there's an emergency of some sort requiring high warp speed and a potenial military response, Starfleet prefers to let the Merchant Marine transport goods and people. Even in those grave emergencies, the Merchant Marine often follows right behind Starfleet in bringing vaccines or doctors to a plague-stricken world, or phaser rifles to a Federation garrison under attack.

Conversely, the ships of the Merchant Marine, while well equipped for commerce, are not designed for combat or similar missions. They have low strength shields and phasers, but would find themselves out of their depth fighting off anything more powerful than technologically backward pirates or brigands. Nor do Merchant Marine ships have the sophisticated sensor arrays which Starfleet ships use to chart systems and investigate stellar anomalies. When a Merchant Marine vessel has to go into a dangerous area, or its commander fears that Orions or others may attack the ship, Starfleet might be called on to escort the mercantile ship to its destination. (Of course, some Merchant Marine captains trust to their own skills rather than calling on Starfleet, and a surprising number of them succeed.) Thus, the two fleets have a healthy respect for each other and work well together.

In the eyes of many Federation citizens, the Merchant Marine is a sort of "junior" or lesser Starfleet. This is unfair. It lacks a high profile and prestige, but its job is in many ways equally important. Its members do not possess the powers or prerogatives which Starfleet personnel do, but they enjoy respect throughout the Federation because of their important role in the galactic economy. Federation families are proud to have their sons and daughters join the Merchant Marine; many families have been serving in its ranks for generations.

Organization and Structure

The Federation Merchant Marine ultimately answers to the Federation Council. The Council's Merchant Marine Committee meets on a regular basis to assess the performance of the Merchant Marine, determine where its services are needed, and allocate its resources. (Actual direction of the Merchant Marine falls to the Department of Commerce in the Secretariat). If there were any difficulties or problems with the service, the Committee would hold hearings to investigate them, but no such hearings have ever been necessary.

Daily command of the Federation Merchant Marine is vested in an Admiral; currently, Admiral Jenidox Parl, a Tellarite, holds the position. Sometimes the Admiral has Starfleet experience, but more often the post serves as the pinnacle of a successful mercantile career for a civilian captain. The Admiral is responsible for seeing that the Merchant Marine fleet is properly and efficiently deployed, for ensuring that all ships are sufficiently maintained and staffed, and for evaluating requests for Merchant Marine assistance and prioritizing them. To help him with these tasks he has a staff consisting of several Vice-Admirals (each of whom is responsible for the portion of the Merchant Marine in a particular area of Federation space) and lesser officers, bureaucrats, and functionaries. The Admiral is headquartered on Alpha Centauri; his headquarters facilities include a large starport and extensive planetary and space-based starship repair bays.

The Merchant Marine organization more or less follows "astrographical" lines. The ships which serve a particular sector or group of sectors comprise a particular "fleet." Each such fleet is commanded by a Vice-Admiral, to whom the captains of the fleet's ships report. Usually a fleet remains in its designated territory, but on occasion it is necessary to assemble several fleets for an important task (such as responding to an emergency or supplying Starfleet ships in time of war). Independent merchants of Federation registry may be called upon to serve under the Vice-Admiral of their sector in emergencies (such as the Cardassian border evacuation), and usually report any rumors of pirates or navigational hazards to his office.

Tritanium Ships and Iron Men

A life in the Federation Merchant Marine isn't necessarily for everyone. It requires a certain combination of discipline, adventurousness, and willingness to work hard. While these qualities might also recommend a person for Starfleet service, these individuals may fail the rigorous Starfleet entrance tests and screenings, prefer a less-structured lifestyle, or choose to join the Merchant Marine without ever considering a career in Starfleet.

Joining the Merchant Marine

It's a lot easier for a Federation citizen to join the Merchant Marine than to join Starfleet. (In fact, unlike Starfleet, the Merchant Marine does not require Federation citizenship.) Although there are some entrance requirements and tests, they mainly concern physical and mental fitness for the job; they do not approach the rigors or difficulties of the Starfleet Academy admission procedure.

The Merchant Marine has recruiting stations on most Federation planets, and at some starbases and outposts as well. To join, a protential recruit need only go to the local recruiting office and apply. If he passes the tests mentioned above, he's in - easy as that. Typically the new member, known as a "sailor," will ship out on his first cruise within a year.

Before that, however, he has to learn a little more about the job he's just signed up for. The Merchant Marine sends him to its own academy on Danula II for a period of about six months. During that time he learns the rudiments of stellar cartography, starship operations, and the like. He then spends another three months studying whatever he had chosen to specialize in - command, flight control, or what have you. While his skills may never approach those of a similarily positioned Starfleet officer, he usually isn't exposed to dangerous situations where such a high level of skill is necessary, either (a tradeoff many sailors are more than happy with). After completing his time at the academy, the sailor is assigned to a ship; he may return to the academy periodically for retraining, officer training, and other purposes.

A standard tour of duty in the Federation Merchant Marine is four years; all persons who attend the academy must serve one such term. After his four years are up, a sailor is free to leave to pursue another career. In practice, most sailors remain in the service for two or more terms; many make it a lifetime occupation. After serving their first tour, sailors are eligible to request transfer to a different ship or fleet. Many of them do so, since this allows them to take on new challenges, visit new areas of space, and make new friends.

Why the Merchant Marine?

Sailors give many reasons for wanting to join the Merchant Marine. First and foremost among them is a desire to "see the galaxy." More than the members of any other Federation organization except Starfleet, the sailors of the Merchant Marine travel extensively. Even if a sailor remains in the same fleet for several tours of duty, he is still likely to visit more planets and see more space than most Federation citizens will in an entire lifetime. Those sailors who truly long for a nomadic life transfer from fleet to fleet and ship to ship, getting to know the galaxy as well as some Starfleet officers.

A second reason is a lock of desire to join Starfleet. Many Federation citizens want to go into space for some reason, but not as a part of Starfleet. It's hard to get into Starfleet, and just as hard to make it through the Academy. When you finally get posted to a starship, you're likely to be exposed to dangers both commonplace and exotic - anything from warp-core breaches, to collisions, to starship combat, to encounters with bizarre galactic phenomena and playful omniscient energy beings. Not everyone wants that kind of pressure, danger, and "excitement." Some prefer the more sedate life of a sailor in the Merchant Marine. It's not a relaxing job - Sailors work hard, and they're proud of it - but compared to serving on board a Starfleet vessel it's a mighty calm job most of the time.

It's much the same for citizens who want to join Starfleet but can't for some reason (typically because they cannot meet the entrance requirements). Starfleet's standards are tough to meet, and not every Federation citizen can get into the Academy. For those citizens who are still desperate to work in space on board a starship, even though they cannot become a part of Starfleet, the Merchant Marine is often a perfect solution. Although it's not nearly as difficult to join, the Merchant Marine still teaches its sailors many valuable spacefaring skills - and on occasion it may even serve up a dose of adventure or two. Plus, every member of the Federation acknowledges the valuable service the Merchant Marine provides, and it's considered an honor to be a member of it, even if its entrance requirements aren't as hard to meet as Starfleet's.

Service in the Name of Prosperity

"Service in the Name of Prosperity" is the motto of the Federation Merchant Marine, and it perfectly sums up the sailors' desire to serve the Federation by increasing the prosperity and ease of life of its citizens. The Merchant Marine was formed to serve the needs of the Federation's citizens, and has always done an admirable job at its appointed task.

The assignments given to a Merchant Marine vessel may remain more or less the same for long periods of time, but typically they vary. Merchant Marine vessels and sailors rarely undertake specific "tours of duty" in the sense that Starfleet uses the term. Instead, the ship will handle a wide variety of jobs - everything from transporting cargo or passengers to towing stranded ships into stardock - which must be performed within its "territory." This variety appeals to many sailors. However, some ships, due to their nature or their sector, tend to perform the same types of missions repeatedly. It's not uncommon for a ship to spend long periods of time simply transporting goods and passengers between the planets in its sector, for example. On the bright side, this usually allows the sailors to develop a routine which lets them maximize their free time, during which they can study, pursue hobbies, and maybe even take a bit of shore leave.

Some of the more typical duties assigned to Merchant Marine ships include:

Transporting goods: The most common "mission" for a Merchant Marine vessel is transporting goods which Federation citizens cannot or prefer not to replicate. While most of the needs of many Federation citizens can be met with replicated goods, not everyone has easy access to replicators (or industrial replicators big enough to make large items). Some items cannot, or should not, be replicated. One good example is artwork and craftwork, such as Mintakan tapestries. While it is possible to replicate such an item, a replicated copy would lack many of the qualities of an original, handmade one, and certainly would have little or no value as a work of art. Therefore a lively Federation trade in such items has sprung up. Similarly, some Federation citizens claim to be able to tell the difference between the taste of replicated food and "real" food, so there is trade in homegrown grains, meat animals, and similar products. Because of their access to such foodstuffs, some sailors are acomplished cooks who eat quite well.

Transporting passengers: The Merchant Marine is not a commercial transportation service. Citizens of the Federation can't simply contact the Merchant Marine via subspace radio and book passage to Risa whenever they feel like taking a trip; for that, they must use private commercial transportation companies. However, there are many occasions when the Federation must transport large numbers of people. Some examples include establishing colonies, evacuating failed colonies, evacuating planets which are suffering from an attack or natural disaster, and ferrying large numbers of diplomats to important conferences. In these cases the Merchant Marine usually does the transporting. In fact, some Merchant Marine vessels are specifically designed as personnel transports, and come equipped with amenities such as holodecks for the passengers' use.

Trade: The Federation does conduct some official trade with non-member species. Typically this involves exchanging Federation goods for goods of equal value which the other race has but the Federation cannot manufacture, especially minerals like dilithium or topaline. However, sometimes these trade missions are conducted solely to generate goodwill and help cement relations between the species and the Federation; whether the Federation obtains anything else of value in return is inconsequential.

Colony support: The Federation has established many colonies and outposts throughout its space. Many extremely isolated colonies lie in deep space without any other inhabited planets for light-years around them. With no one else to trade with, and often nothing to trade until the colony becomes firmly established, the colonists remain dependent upon the Federation to provide supplies, check up on them periodically, and bring news of the rest of the galaxy. These jobs often fall to the Merchant Marine. Because of this, more than one sailor has met the person of his dreams at some colony and left the service to settle down and become a colonist. Technology transfer: The races of the Federation frequently exchange newly developed forms of technology with each other. Acquisition of Federation technology is also a prime motivating factor behind some species' request to join the Federation. Such exchanges of scientific knowledge and equipment usually fall within the purview of the Merchant Marine, since it is better prepared to carry large amounts of equipment than Starfleet. It can also easily accomodate diplomats of other personnel who accompany the items so that the transfer can be effectuated.

Tugboat detail: Even as advanced and sophisticated as they are, Federation ships sometimes become stranded for one reason or another. It may be damage caused by an attack, equipment failure, loss of power, or some other reason, but the ship still has to be retrieved. Most Merchant Marine ships have powerful engines and tractor beams designed to help them perform such a task.

Repair ships: Similarly, ships which have been extensively damaged often need a large supply of parts to make repairs - parts which cannot be replicated (either because the replicators are inoperational, or the items needed are too large for a ship's replicators). In such cases the Merchant Marine is usually called upon to ferry parts and repair personnel to the damaged ship (although in the case of ships which require classified military technology, Starfleet may instead take this duty upon itself). Some Merchant Marine craft specialize in repair work, with a large complement of engineers and equipment the next best thing to a full spacedock.

A Sailor's Life

While it is usually less dangerous than a life in Starfleet, the life of a sailor in the Merchant Marine isn't always an easy one. The work can be hard and the hours long, but the reward - helping the Federation and its citizens prosper - is well worth the sacrifice.

Compared to Starfleet vessels, Merchant Marine ships feel uncrowded. It doesn't take many persons to keep one of the relatively simple and easy-to-maintain freighters operational, or to make sure cargo is safe. Some ships, despite their rather large size, have a crew of only a dozen or so. However, those ships specifically designed to carry large numbers of passengers often have extensive crews.

Regulations in the Merchant Marine are not nearly as strict as those in Starfleet; after all, the Merchant Marine is not a quasi-military organization. Discipline tends to be more lax, and the officers and crew more easygoing, than usually seen in Starfleet. However, the Merchant Marine is required to abide by all pertinent Federation regulations, especially the Prime Directive. Common-sense safety regulations also apply, and most sailors observe them conscientiously, since they know the risks of space travel better than most people. The Merchant Marine also falls under the Federation's commercial regulations and laws; most Command officers have a thorough knowledge of such laws.

On long journeys, life aboard a Merchant Marine vessel can get a little routine. Most Merchant Marine vessels do not have holodecks or similar forms of entertainment, so the crew oftens contents itself with studying, gambling, athletics, art, or other hobbies or diversions.

Ranks and Departments

The ranks used in the Merchant Marine are virtually identical to those used in Starfleet. Each ship is commanded by a Captain who has total authority over the vessel and his cew (subject, of course, to being removed from duty for medical reasons and the like). The Captain is assisted by a First Officer. Lieutenant Commanders (or, in some cases Lieutenants) head the various departments on board the ship, such as Security and Engineering. Enlisted personnel compose the bulk of the crew.

The departments typically cound on a Merchant Marine ship include:

Command: This department is more or less self-explanatory and very similar to the same department on board a Starfleet vessel. However, in addition to typical Command duties, Command officers are expected to perform whatever negotiating, bargaining, or trading is needed with regard to their cargo. Even more than Starfleet captains, Merchant Marine commanders have to run every aspect of a (sometimes very) isolated world on their ships. Engineering: First, Engineering must make sure the ship is in fit condition to fly, and must conduct all routine maintenance which is required to keep it in proper shape. Second, it must make whatever emergency repairs are necessary. Third, when necessary Engineering must assist the Quartermaster with bringing goods onto the ship, safely securing them, and then offloading them. Engineers may be called on for assistance if special uses of the tractor beam are required for a particular cargo, when a dangerous cargo is being brought on board and it is necessary to activate multiple safety measures, when tests have to be performed on the cargo, or just when the crew needs extra hands to do the lifting. Since Merchant Marine ships usually do not have a dedicated Science Officer, Engineering personnel fill such roles whenever there is a need. This rarely happens, but Merchant Marine engineers have the closest thing to training for it nevertheless.

Flight Control: The Flight Control officer is responsible for astronavigation, steering the ship, making sure the ship enters a proper orbit, and the like. He also usually operates the ship's sensors. His duties usually don't involve anything more complicated than entering an orbit or towing another ship, but occasionally more difficult situations crop up, so he's got to be ready for them.

Operations Manager: The Operations Manager has several related duties. First, he is responsible for the allocation of the ship's power in time of need; it's up to him to decide which systems get power when the warp engines can't produce enough power to go around. Second, he monitors the status of any groups of personnel which leave the ship to conduct negotiations, retrieve or deliver cargo, and so forth (these are usually called "Trade Teams"). Finally, if necessary he assists the Quartermaster.

Quartermaster: The Quartermaster is responsible for the loading, offloading, and maintenance of cargo and passengers on the ship. He supervises most such operations, though lesser one are usually delegated to subordinates. A Quartermaster has to be precise and meticulous, since even a seemingly tiny or trivial error regarding the cargo may cause severe repercussions. In some cases the Quartermaster also assists the Captain with negotiations regarding trades and transportation. Outside the Federation, the Quartermaster oversees any purchases the ship makes. He also works closely with Security. Often the Quartermaster serves as the ship's First Officer. On smaller ships, he often serves as the Operations Manager as well.

Security: The Security Officer is responsible for the safety and security of the ship and its passengers, crew, and cargo. Typically he and his subordinates are the only officers on the ship trained in the use of phasers; most sailors never learn how to use one, since they have little (if any) need for weapons. He, or a trusted junior officer, usually accompanies the Captain on any negotiation or trade mission which may pose some danger.

It is also important to note what a Merchant Marine ship does not have in comparison to a Starfleet vessel. There is no Tactical Officer, for example; the Tactical station will usually be taken by a Security, Flight Control, or Command officer in times of crisis. There is not much of a medical staff, either; a doctor or two, at most, is usually enough for a Merchant Marine ship. As noted above, there is no Science Officer, since Merchant Marine missions usually have little, if anything, to do with scientific investigation. If necessary, a Starfleet Science Officer can be temporarily assigned to the ship.

Trade Teams

The Merchant Marine equivalent of the Away Team is the Trade Team - a group of crewmen whose purpose is to negotiate trades, obtain and deliver goods, and so forth. The typical Trade Team consists of one or more Command officers (who do most of the talking), one Security officer (sometimes more), and someone from the Quartermaster department. If large numbers of Merchant Marine personnel are involved, an Operations Manager may also accompany the Team.

Stepping Up

"Stepping Up" is Merchant Marine slang for leaving the service to join Starfleet. (Less polite sailors call it "waxing.") While this is rare, it does happen from time to time. Many sailors are people who wanted to join Starfleet at first, but were prevented from doing so for some reason, such as inability to pass the entrance exams. However, Starfleet is neither rigid nor an unforgiving organization, and sometimes a Federation citizen can qualify to join later on in life. Many of the skills learned in the Merchant Marine, such as piloting a ship, coordinating groups of people to reach a goal, and interacting amicably with many different species, translate well to a Starfleet career.

Merchant Marine Vessels

The Merchant Marine uses a wide variety of vessels. The two things most of them have in common are (1) a great deal of room for cargo and/or passengers, and (2) engines strong enough to move all that weight, even though their top speed is not particularly high.

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