Foremost Group

The Foremost Group is a privately held shipping company based in New York City,[1][2][3] with subsidiaries registered in the Marshall Islands.[4] It operates globally, chartering vessels to companies in the dry bulk shipping industry, and its fleet includes some of the world's largest "capesize" bulk carriers,[3] Its clients include Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus.[3] It was founded in 1964 by Chinese-American immigrant James Si-Cheng Chao and his wife Ruth Mulan Chu Chao.[5][6] Its chair and CEO since 2008 is Angela Chao, the sixth daughter of the company's founders.[7][8][3]

Foremost Group
Founded1964 (1964)
FoundersJames S. C. Chao
HeadquartersNew York City
Key people
James S. C. Chao
Angela Chao

Foremost has had most of its ships built by China State Shipbuilding, some of them financed by loans from the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China.[9][10] In 2015 it began construction of the first freighter jointly financed by banks in both the People's Republic of China and Taiwan.[11] Its ships are registered under the flags of Liberia and Hong Kong.[2][4][10] Iron ore is one of its principal cargoes.[9] 72 percent of the freight its ships carry on behalf of its charterers is shipped to China, with its ships operating primarily in the region of Korea to Australia,[9][2][10] but also world-wide.

Early in its history, Foremost shipped rice to Vietnam under contract with the U.S. government during the Vietnam War.[4][10] The United Nations contracted with Foremost to deliver humanitarian cargo to Bangladesh during its war for independence in 1971.[4] From 2012 to 2019 its fleet grew from 17 to 33 ships, valued at $1.2 billion, the most valuable of any dry bulk shipper headquartered in the United States.[2] It ordered the construction of 10 bulk cargo vessels in 2017 and 2018, the majority from Japanese shipyards.[12][3]

In 2014, Colombian authorities discovered around 90 pounds of cocaine on the Ping May, a cargo ship owned by the Foremost Group, but did not charge the company, nor the ship’s captain or crew, with any crimes.[13][14]


The company has come under scrutiny due to perceived conflicts of interest involving Elaine Chao – daughter of its founders and sister of its current CEO – and her husband then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.[15][16] Additional attention has related to Elaine Chao's role as Secretary of Transportation – which regulated U.S.-registered cargo vessels – during the administration of President Donald Trump.[4][17][12][18] In 2020, the company received a forgivable loan valued between $350,000 and $1 million under the Paycheck Protection Program, designed to help small businesses that would be otherwise unable to remain solvent during the COVID-19 pandemic.[19]


  1. ^ "Foremost Maritime Co LLC - Company Profile and News". Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  2. ^ a b c d Tindera, Michela. "A $59 Million Will Sheds Light On Shipping Fortune Connected To Elaine Chao And Mitch McConnell". Forbes. Retrieved 2019-07-05.
  3. ^ a b c d e Lipton), Eric. "May 2019 Foremost Group Fact Sheet". Retrieved 2019-07-05.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Family's Shipping Company Could Pose Problems for…". ProPublica. 2016-12-12. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  5. ^ "Harvard Business School Building Boom Continues". Harvard Magazine. October 12, 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  6. ^ "Foremost Group returns to Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding for bulker pair -". Splash 247. 2017-06-29. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  7. ^ "Angela Chao - Official Website". Angela Chao - Official Website. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  8. ^ "Speaker Angela Chao". Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  9. ^ a b c Lipton, Eric; Forsythe, Michael (2019-06-02). "For the Chao Family, Deep Ties to the World's 2 Largest Economies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-07-05.
  10. ^ a b c d Forsythe, Michael; Lipton, Eric; Bradsher, Keith; Wee, Sui-Lee (2019-06-02). "A 'Bridge' to China, and Her Family's Business, in the Trump Cabinet". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-07-05.
  11. ^ "China-Taiwan ship finance deal funds Foremost newbuilds". Marine Log. 2015-10-22. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  12. ^ a b Snyder, Tanya. "Did Elaine Chao's DOT interviews help her family's business?". Politico. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  13. ^ Putterman, Samantha (2020-02-26). "Story exaggerates 2014 drug bust on cargo ship owned by McConnell's family". Politifact. Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  14. ^ "The kooky tale of 'Cocaine Mitch'". The Washington Post. May 4, 2018.
  15. ^ Fang, Lee (2014-10-30). "Mitch McConnell's Freighted Ties to a Shadowy Shipping Company". ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  16. ^ Getlen, Larry (2018-03-18). "How McConnell and Chao used political power to make their family rich". New York Post. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  17. ^ Fang, Lee; Woodman, Spencer (2018-02-05). "Global Shipping Business Tied to Mitch McConnell, Secretary Elaine Chao Shrouded in Offshore Tax Haven". The Intercept. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  18. ^ Lipton, Eric; Forsythe, Michael (2019-09-16). "Elaine Chao Investigated by House Panel for Possible Conflicts". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-09-17.
  19. ^ Roos, Meghan (2020-07-06). "McConnell's Wife's Family Business Appears on Trump Admin's List of Companies That Received Most PPP Money". Newsweek. Retrieved 2020-07-08.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)