Farrell Lines History

Original Farrell Lines logo

The Founder: James A. Farrell

The heritage and shipping prowess of Farrell Lines can be traced back to the early 1900s when James A. Farrell Sr., the late president of the United States Steel Corporation, established his own steamship company. The Isthmian Steamship Company was created in 1910 as a subsidiary of U.S. Steel and was designed to mitigate the costs of shipping U.S. Steel's freight. James A. Farrell grew up the son of a ship's captain, and the knowledge he acquired aided him in establishing a shipping legacy.

Farrell's Accomplishments

Farrell's foray into the shipping industry was a great success. He saved U.S. Steel Corporation substantial sums of money and ultimately decided to delve even further into this new enterprise. By 1928, Farrell was involved in several shipping ventures and operated three of the most influential companies in the industry: Argonaut Lines, Robin Lines, and the American South African Lines (ASAL).

Family Companies

James A. Farrell Sr. had two sons to whom he imparted his shipping knowledge and business savvy. Both sons, John and James Jr., went on to operate two of the three major shipping investments. James Jr. was president of ASAL while John was principal stockholder and president of Argonaut Lines.

Cooperation and Compromise

In 1940, John abolished Argonaut Lines and transferred its vessels to ASAL. Shortly thereafter, James Jr. served in WWII in Naval Intelligence, and upon returning home, he teamed up with his brother to run ASAL. The two were able to create a powerful management team and operated the main U.S. flag and passenger service between Africa and the United States.

Progress and Growth

By 1948, ASAL was the only line operated by the Farrell family and the name was subsequently changed to Farrell Lines. Determined to leave their imprint on the family legacy, the Farrell brothers worked tirelessly to improve their brand and position the company for growth. In 1965, they acquired the Australia-U.S. East Coast service from United States Lines. At this time the brothers also ceased offering passenger services, fixing their focus entirely onto the movement of cargo.

The Peak of Success

Following their 1965 acquisition, growth came along rapidly. Farrell Lines purchased another string of companies in 1975, the West-Coast Australia Service of the Pacific Far-East Line, and by 1978 Farrell Lines became the second largest U.S.-flag merchant fleet, 44 ships, with the acquisition of the entire American Export Line fleet.

A Change of Course

When James Jr. and John passed away in 1978 and 1968, respectively, they had made Farrell Lines a top-tier U.S. flag company. They had upheld their father's legacy and ultimately handed the company down to other members of the Farrell family. But difficult financial times hit the company, and Farrell Lines dropped all of its African and European routes and sold 38 of its 44 ships. By 1991, Farrell Lines continued to operate with only four ships and catered solely to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf.


Farrell Lines became a subsidiary of P&O Nedlloyd Container Line Ltd. in 2000, which was subsequently purchased by the A.P. Møller-Maersk Group in 2005. Following the purchase, Farrell Lines became a part of Maersk Line,Limited, the U.S. flag operating arm of the A.P. Møller-Maersk Group. Under Maersk Line, Limited, Farrell Lines has reemerged as a U.S. flag roll-on, roll-off carrier. Seeing tremendous potential, Maersk Line, Limited revitalized the Farrell Lines brand in 2010 and increased the fleet to four ships.

Current Operations

Farrell Lines currently operates in partnership with Höegh Autoliners and its U.S. affiliate Alliance Navigation, focusing their efforts on transits between the U.S. East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico to the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Farrell Lines has also been able to sustain its tradition of leadership by participating in the Maritime Security Program (MSP) and the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA); both are important programs designed to support the Department of Defense in its sustainment of U.S. military forces to ensure the fleet is prepared in the event that emergency deployment is needed. As Farrell Lines continues to expand they will hold true to their mission of proudly serving our nation by carrying U.S. military cargoes on its pure car/truck vessels.

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