The Foremost Group is a privately held, family-run shipping company based in New York City, with subsidiaries registered in the Marshall Islands. 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, with a focus on environmentally friendly operations. Its clients include Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus. It was founded in 1964 by Chinese-American immigrant James Si-Cheng Chao and his wife Ruth Mulan Chu Chao. Its chair and CEO since 2008 is Angela Chao, the sixth daughter of the company's founders.
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. In 2015 it began construction of the first freighter jointly financed by banks in both the People's Republic of China and Taiwan. Its ships are registered under the flags of Liberia and Hong Kong. Iron ore is one of its principle cargoes. 72 percent of its freight is shipped to China, with its ships operating primarily in the region of Korea to Australia, but also world-wide.
Early in its history, Foremost shipped rice to Vietnam under contract with the U.S. government during the Vietnam War. The United Nations contracted with Foremost to deliver humanitarian cargo to Bangladesh during its war for independence in 1971. 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. It ordered the construction of 10 bulk cargo vessels in 2017 and 2018, the majority from Japanese shipyards.
In 2014, Colombian authorities discovered around 90 pounds of cocaine on the Ping May, a cargo ship owned by the Foremost Group.
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 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Additional attention has related to Elaine Chao's role as Secretary of Transportation – which regulates U.S.-registered cargo vessels – in the administration of President Donald Trump. 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.