​​​INTRODUCTION

The Harbour Masters Corps is the expression of those special maritime jurisdictions to which, since ancient times, was entrusted the regulation of navigation, the protection of seafarers, the administration of the ports. The origin of modern Harbour Masters can be traced back to eleventh century. After the year 1000, with its nightmares and sadness, new hopes and new ideals flourished, reawakening in our population the passion for navigation. At the forefront of this richness of life are, of course, the maritime cities, whose ships were pushing towards more and more distant shores, while in the homeland new sea laws were established together with the judges who had to apply them. The law of the sea, little by little, conformed to the achievements of the ships, one of the main instruments of wealth, power and victory. The various practices were collected into a single body of doctrine; thus the law assumed the right consistency, established itself, and crossed the border of the states to follow the ship. Soon in the Maritime Republics, special courts asserted and consolidated themselves under different names.

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MARITIME LAWS OF ITALIAN STATES

The maritime laws of Maritime Republics, adapting to the times, were acknowledged by the ancient Italian States in this way. In the Grand Duchy of Tuscany it was the Captain of the Port of Livorno who directed the affairs of the merchant marine and had control of ports. In the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies monitoring of navigation, maritime police and the ports were under the responsibility of the Minister of the Navy; in the most important maritime ports committees were established, composed of the Captain of the Port and the Controller of customs. In the Sardinian Kingdom the administration of the Merchant Navy was entrusted to the Merchant Marine Consuls and Vice Consuls; the ports' service to the Captains and Officers of the Port. Consuls and Vice Consuls, heirs of the most ancient traditions of the Maritime Republics, were civil servants and had to take care of maritime health, as well as to serve as peripheral services of the merchant marine. On the other hand, Captains and Officers of the Ports were military; they belonged to the Ports' General Staff Corps, with an organization and hierarchy equal to those of the Navy General Staff Corps, and had the command and direction of the technical services and the responsibility of police of the ports .

THE CREATION OF THE CORPS

Almost 150 years have passed since the establishment of the Harbour Masters Corps. It was with Royal Decree n. 2438 dated 20th July 1865 that the wise administrators of the Kingdom of Italy, feeling the  need of a common law for the regulation of all maritime and port activities, realized the merging of the two former bodies to whom that regulation had been so far entrusted, that is the Ports General Staff Corps and the Merchant Marine Consuls: the first a military body, essentially with technical powers confined to ports; the latter a civilian corps, with mainly administrative duties.

The young organization, which combined technical and military functions, found itself invested with a variety of vast and complex powers, connected to each other by the issue that originated them: the technical aspect of navigation in its dual aspect of commercial shipping and military navigation. The staff consisted (Art. 2 of the Act) of Port Captains of 1st, 2nd and 3rd class, Port Officers of 1st, 2nd and 3rd class and Naval Ratings. Port Captains were at the head of the ports of registration, Port Officers were in charge of the districts, while the Naval Ratings were the starting grade of the career. As the increasingly complex and multifaceted activities of the Corps, called to settle and regulate all activities in the maritime field, were defining themselves, at the same time military powers were assigned to the Corps such as, for example, the formation of the maritime contingent, the recruitment of young people eligible for military service in the Navy, and their taking to arms.

The ever-increasing State intervention in all aspects of national economic life and the remarkable evolution of navigation, both from a technical and economical point of view, determined as a logical consequence a continuous expansion of functions and a greater commitment of the Harbour Masters.

This expansion of functions could not affect the organization of the Corps itself; hence the need to establish a governing body to coordinate, in a unitary concept, the various activities and services entrusted to the Harbour Masters Corps. It was thus constituted, with Royal Decree n. 857 dated 12th August 1910, the General Inspectorate of the Harbour Masters Corps, with the task of supervision and control over all peripheral commands and offices.

The efficiency of the body was severely tested in the most decisive moments of national life. At first it was the 1911/12 Italian-Turkish conflict that engaged the staff of the Harbour Masters for the preliminary organization of men and materials, and the landing on the coasts of Libya and Dodecaneso. The success of the operations, also due to the efficient functioning of port services, was followed by the organization of the ports in the occupied territories, in order to ensure the constant link between Italy and the African shores. After the military operations the pacification with the indigenous population took place, also implemented by the adoption of an appropriate legal system. The maritime legislation, pride of the Corps, proved to be fully adequate to the purpose.

 

MILITARIZATION OF THE CORPS

On the eve of Italy's entry into the I world war, with a measure adopted in May 1915 the service of the Harbour Masters was recognized as military and its staff was authorized to wear the military stars on their uniform.

The First World War subjected the Harbour Masters to the severest test. The collaboration in the mobilization of military personnel, in the use of merchant ships for the war, in the defense of the coasts, permanently exposed to attacks, in the military police action and mainly the organization and functioning of the ports, which is essential to ensure the supply of the operating armies, were the most evident aspects of the participation of the Harbour Masters to the war effort.

Among the tasks performed, to be particularly remembered is the contribution to the rescue of the armies, Governments and Royal Families of the Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro, disembarked in Italian ports. The organization of port logistics of that operation, in the Italian ports of arrival as well as in the Albanian harbours of departure, weighed primarily on the Harbour Masters Corps. Also to be remembered are expeditions in the Aegean Sea and in Albania, which committed the staff in tasks of great importance.

At the end of the conflict followed the work associated with the demobilization of the Army and Navy, carried out in conjunction with the recovery of duties of a civilian nature, particularly intense after the long stasis suffered as a result of the war.

In February 1918 the Minister of the Navy permanently entrusted the Harbour Masters with some services concerning the military defense and, therefore, all members of the Corps were militarized for the duration of the ongoing war, up to six months after the signing of the armistice treaties: the militarization process was finally consecrated in November 1919. In September 1923 the Harbour Masters Corps was included among the other military corps of the Royal Navy. This measure had a particular importance, giving the final and current identity to the Corps: with a legislative measure it was consecrated with the full recognition of the essentially military character that the Corps had had ever since its foundation in 1865.

During the period between the first and the second world wars the Corps was called again to perform arduous tasks in the Italian-Ethiopian conflict and in subsequent activities, during which it was committed to carry out the shipments at the arrival points, to maintain intact the constant influx of what was required by the conduct of the military actions, and - on the ships engaged in the transport of men and equipment - with the function of military commissioners.

The General Inspectorate of the Harbour Masters Corps was replaced by the Corps' General Command, by a Decree dated 11th November 1938 which established powers and organization of the new General Command (which was to be headed by a Vice Admiral), the military and civilian personnel of the Corps as well as the internal organization of the Harbour Masters, the military services relating to seafarers, merchant ships and ports.

When the second world war broke out and Italy was forced to face truly tragic moments, the violent military offensive of the opponents struck especially our ports and the maritime lines of communications. Operations in the distant Indian Ocean and Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the African shores engaged Officers, Petty Officers, Volunteers and all the Corps' employees concurrent to coastal defense, planning, logistics, port organization of temporary occupied territories and many other military tasks. In this operations, which brought together in a dangerous situation all the Italian armed forces, there have been numerous episodes of bravery; this is testified by the heritage of rewards for valour awarded to the personnel of the Harbour Masters and consisting of:

  • 9 Silver Medals;
  • 27 Bronze Medals;
  • 83 Crosses at War Valour;
  • 67 Solemn Citations for Valour

as well as numerous other Decorations for Valour and Civil Navy Valour.

Then came the armistice signed on 8th September 1943. The Italian merchant shipping had previously been requisitioned or chartered by the State, and the ports placed under the control of military authorities. On the evening of that day in the Italian ports local maritime authorities gave orders to national vessels and to the people on board either to depart or to sink the ships or to perform acts of sabotage. The orders were carried out whenever possible. Therefore, we must not forget how many Officers, Petty Officers, volunteers and employees of the Harbour Masters knew the ordeal of internment abroad.


FROM THE HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR THE NORTH OF ITALY TO THE MINISTRY OF MERCHANT MARINE

 

The tragic rift that was created as a result of the armistice led, in the north, to the establishment a Directorate General of the Merchant Navy and a General Command of the Harbour Masters with its seat in Verona, at first, and then in Milan. The Harbour Masters, despite their very reduced tasks and their limited jurisdiction under the circumstances, were instrumental in safeguarding the merchant naval heritage and port facilities, as well as for the protection of the interests of seafarers and shipowners. In 1948 the General Command (reconstituted as the Inspectorate General of the Harbor Masters, headed by the General Officer higher in rank or senior in permanent service) and the Harbour Masters Corps passed under the dependency of the Ministry of Merchant Marine, to perform institutional services assigned to this administration.

In the years immediately after the war the damage done to the equipment and the maritime structures was enormous, and our fleet was almost totally destroyed. But the intrinsic energies of the Italian people worked the miracle of reconstruction, which in the maritime sector, crucial to our very existence, brought briefly to the rehabilitation of the ports and the reconstruction of the ships. The economical recovery was followed by the political one, with the inclusion of our country in the scenario of international relations, and therefore the assumption of commitments in the economical and military fields. As part of these commitments re-emerged the prominent position of the Harbour Masters Corps, with its extremely varied duties and responsibilities. They were, in fact, specifically technical, administrative, economic and military powers unified in the phenomenon of navigation that qualifies them and integrates their contents.​

THE CREATION OF THE COAST GUARD

By the Ministerial Decree dated 8th June 1989 the branches of the Harbour Masters Corps performing technical and operational tasks were established as "Coast Guard" which, therefore, represents an articulation of the Corps itself. This measure, which formally establishes the "Coast Guard" in our country, actually did nothing other than recognize the services always performed along the coasts and at sea by the Harbour Masters.

Similarly to what happens in all other nations, the naval and air units of the Corps, as well as bearing the words "Coast Guard", wear the traditional white livery with the logo which, all over the world, distinguishes the assets of the Coast Guard from that of other administrations, police and State organizations.

This "logo" (Decree dated 27th December 2006 "Adoption and guardianship of the logo of the Coast Guard. O.J. n. 13 dated 17th January 2007 ), in homage to the colours of the national flag and to the membership of the Harbour Masters Corps to the Navy, has been designed as a three-colour flag in which the red band has taken a predominant extension bearing in the center the traditional black navy anchor on a white circular base.

In 1994, with the Port Reform Law, the Inspectorate General was elevated to the General Command of the Harbour Masters Corps - Coast Guard, headed by the Coast Guard Commandant. In this way there was a qualitative leap of fundamental importance that allowed, and will allow, greater authority in the development of the overall organization, to better cope with the institutional functions that the Coast Guard has to perform. ​