Obituary: Niels Winchester Johnsen

Niels Winchester Johnsen, source NOLA

Published Aug 12, 2015 8:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

Shipping company founder Niels Winchester Johnsen passed away at age 93 on August 7 at his home in New Jersey.

Johnsen was born in New Orleans and attended Tulane University before joining the U.S. merchant marine in World War II.

During his time at war, he survived two torpedo attacks that sank the ships he was on. After the second attack, in 1944, he spent two weeks in a lifeboat off the coast of Africa.

After his service time, Johnsen joined States Marine Line, headed by his father-in-law, Henry Dickson Mercer. From there, he moved to Central Gulf Steamship which he founded with his brother and father in 1957. The company was a leading enterprise for shipping between the U.S., the Middle East and Asia.

Central Gulf Steamship later merged with Trans Union Corporation, and then in 1979, Johnsen became chairman of International Shipholding Corporation, a shipping company set up from the merged companies. 

International Shipholding is the parent company of Central Gulf Lines and Waterman Steamship Corporation. It has about 50 vessels, and Johnsen retired as company chairman in 2003.

Johnsen was a trustee of the Atlantic Mutual Insurance Corporation and a director of the Centennial Insurance Company and the National Cargo Bureau, which he also led. He also served on the boards of the American Bureau of Shipping and the Seamen's Church Institute.

Johnsen received the Seamen's Church Institute's Silver Bell Award in 1988 and the Admiral of the Ocean Seas Award in 1993.

He left behind his brother Erik, wife Barbara, a son Niels and daughter Ingrid, seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Before his death he spent happy summer days with the children.