. – The Thirty Years’ Wars of Religion with Spain had annihilated the already vital French navy. When the Colbert took power, the tonnage of the navy was 80,000 tons. (those of Hansa and England weighed 100,000 tons each; the Dutch one 560,000); the minister took care of the navy by issuing the de commerce ordinance of 1673, the famous one sur la Marine of 1681, he created the inscription maritime ; it also gave life – but with insufficient capital – to the great companies which, after 1672, had difficult times except that of the East Indies. At the death of Colbert, the French ship was already 150-200 thousand tons. Law’s system gave new impetus to maritime trade and the navy which in 1789 counted tons. 750,000 (half of the English one); after the decline due to the Revolution the fleet, in 1868, had already reached one million tons. It, which in 1914 was made up of 2.498.485 tons. gross (with an increase of over 60% on the figures relating to 1870) lost, for war reasons, tons. 921,636 in the period 10 August 1914 – 31 December 1918 (37.65% of its total tonnage). These losses (which rise to 1.128 tons. 792 if we include Vuelle suffered due to sea) were compensated with new purchases and constructions, in addition to the seizure of ex-enemy ships, so that the tonnage had risen, immediately after the war, to tonnes. 3,800,000 to gradually decrease to 30 June 1931 (Lloyd’s Register, 1931-32) to 1653 ships per ton. 3,566,227, of which 1521 ships per ton. 3,513,179 with mechanical propulsion. As in 1914, the French navy occupies the 60th place among the world navies, coming, even now, after England, the United States, Germany, Japan, Norway. As for chalutiers and other fishing boats, France occupies the 2nd place, with 123.794 tons. against 403,000 of England; but as for tanks it drops to 7th place with 35 units per ton. 205,222; and with regard to the average cargo – boat (6-8000 tons) it goes to 8th place while for motor ships it is 10th with 60 ships per ton. 179.548.
According to Physicscat.com, the fleet has aged somewhat; it includes only 32% of ships under 10 years of age against 44% for England and 49% for Germany. It should also be noted that the importance of the sailing navy is very scarce: 132 ships per ton. 53,048. The French navy constituted (provisions of Louis XI in 1482; decrees of Fouquet in 1659; Colbertian protective policy) an excellent field of action and experiment for maritime protectionism, whose guiding idea, up to the Second Empire, consisted in the organization – for the benefit of national armaments – of an absolute or relative monopoly for the transport of goods to or from the metropolis. This concept was inspired by the Acte de navigation of 1793, which sanctioned the exclusion of the pavillon tiers (through the ban on the importation into France of foreign goods on foreign ships and the imposition of special tonnage rights on foreign-flagged ships that imported goods from their own country into France). The customs law of April 28, 1816 lifted the ban, but strengthened the protection through the establishment of surtaxes de pavillon o Additional customs duties on all goods imported into France by foreign flag vessels, based on tonnage, to a much higher extent than French ones. Furthermore, transport between France and colonies or possessions was exclusively reserved for the French flag. These measures provoked reprisals from the affected navies, so that the system was relaxed through the reciprocity clause included in several international treaties. Subsequent laws abolished pacts and surcharges; but the regime of liberty did not benefit the French flag, whose percentage in the movement of national ports immediately decreased from 39.16% in 1864 to 34.77% in 1869. It was therefore decided to return to protection with navigation bonuses (proportionate to the net tonnage and at every 1000 miles traveled) to the ships assigned to the long course, and construction, instituted by the law of 29 January 1881. The law of 30 January 1893 maintained the latter and extended the former – to the extent of 2/3 – to ships engaged in international cabotage. The rewards regime had deleterious results for obvious reasons; in fact, navigation was seen to develop in ballast with the sole purpose of earning a satisfactory mass of rewards. The percentage of the national flag on the movement of French ports dropped to 29.5% in the period 1893-1901. Then came the law of 7 April 1902, which replaced the prizes with a fee commensurate with the actual days of armament and the gross tonnage. But the percentage of the French flag always fell: to 24.96% in 1907. New law, therefore, of 19 April 1906, which reorganized the system on a new basis, also granting rewards to the shipowner on the basis of: a) actual armament days ; b) the actual average daily distance (so as not to encourage stops in port); c) of the transport of a certain quantity of goods in proportion to the tonnage (to avoid ballast navigation). The law, which expired in 1918, has never been renewed.
France, during the war, created a state fleet, liquidated by law of 9 August 1921, because it had a deficit of almost one million francs a day. After the war, the system of subsidies (started in 1827; Bordeaux-Vera Cruz monthly service) returned to giving them a more daring character. In fact, the agreements for which the Treasury assumes limited liability are now of little importance: with the Générale Transatlantique, for services on New York and the West Indies, and with other companies for services on Algeria and Tunisia. For the other agreements, however, it assumes unlimited liability for operating losses: a) Services contractuels des Messageries maritimes: Levante, Far East, Madagascar, Australia, New Caledonia; deficit rectified by the state in 1930, 114 million; b) Sud Atlantique: South America, deficit 35 million; c) Fraissinet: services on Corsica; deficit 15,300,000.
The French protectionist system is completed by: a) maritime credit (read 1 August 1928 and 10 August 1929). The Crédit foncier de France is authorized to grant to the national armament (within the maximum limit of one billion francs to be disbursed in five years) loans which can be commensurate with 85% of the value of the ship to be built. Interest is kept low through state contributions; b) tax exemptions on purchases of ships abroad or of naval materials (law of 10 August 1929); c) subsidies to tankers of no more than 15 years (law of 11 January 1925); d) reserve cabotage between the metropolis and Algeria.
The French merchant navy is not well equipped from the point of view of cargo ships, to limit ourselves to units between 6000-8000 tons, it comes in 8th place; however, it has large ocean liners, especially in North and South America; Île de France, Paris, Atlantique (as well as the Super Île de France 70,000 tons, under construction) and also has a vast scope for a network of regular, subsidized and free lines, which connect all world markets to France except the South African Union, the Dutch Indies, British India. Various causes, however, decrease its efficiency. One of the obstacles that most hinder the development of the navy is the problem of the crews, which in 1914 included 98,790 people while today they have risen to 140,000, also as a result of the strict application of the eight-hour law, which the other navies have almost unanimously refused.
There are 16 shipyards with 84 stopovers and their annual potential is 400,000 tons, while they only build 100,000 tons on average. This is the cause of the higher cost of construction, compared to foreign construction sites. The central administration of the merchant navy has recently been entrusted to the Ministère de la marine marchande.