Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending an informational meeting held by my employer not too far from home. After reminiscing with some long lost colleagues and hitting the pretzel and cookie table we launched into an uninterrupted four hour lecture on the state of our organization.
Amongst the financial news and shipping report we were given some dour news of the retirement funds taking a huge loss recently and how job's at sea were getting tighter. We were then provided some displeasing information of more schooling on the way for professional mariners in the not so distant future.
As the wheels of the International Maritime Organization have been turning over the past few years a new regimen has been proposed to modify the existing and far reaching international convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watch keeping. As any one working on a marine license knows, this international legislation, codified by the USCG with the help of congress, has had a huge impact on American mariners. In a simplified sense the STCW has standardized the training and certification requirements for mariners from each of the 168 signatory nations.
The latest manifestations from the IMO have been the medical requirements NVIC issued by the Coast Guard and talk of a Merchant Marine Credential. Both follow suit with international standards for medical and credentialing norms.
Now it looks like there is more coming from this watery arm of the United Nations in the way of increased training standards for both deck and engineering officers. Keep in mind that the following is just hearsay until passed by the IMO and adopted by the United States but it did come from a reputable source, a current member of the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee or MERPAC.
In the not so distant future engineers will be looking at a new course, engine room resource management or ERM to mirror the deck department equivalent, bridge resource management. Additionally both departments will be required to attend a management leadership course.
The Basic Safety Training we've all taken will require renewal every five years. Something you may be use to if you work for Military Sealift Command or some tanker operators which all ready require a BST renewal. In addition to personal survival, basic fire fighting, elementary first aid, and personal safety/social responsibility there will most likely be a fatigue management component. This last addition to the BST skills can be attributed to the Coast Guard's Crew Endurance Management System and their lobbying in the IMO.
This new focus on fatigue is amusingly ironic. Addressing the fatigue caused by increased responsibilities and workloads on today's mariner with another classroom course is laughable. It seems the Coast Guard is trying to bail out a sinking boat with a colander by trying to reduce fatigue related accidents with a class and consequently more paperwork for the officers. Why can't the very regulators who mandate safe manning levels for vessel operators increase the amount of crew to share the workload on board? I know that when my crew is dog tired from a week of arrivals, departures, and cargo operations what we need is a fresh man on the mooring winch or forklift, not another course telling us to avoid caffeine and the sun before going to bed! I digress.
What else? How about a new "Cargo Transfer Fire Fighting" course for DL PIC personnel on tankers. This course I can't be critical about. If there are two things I deem vital to working aboard a safe ship it is increased medical and fire fighting skills. My official fire training consisted of one course spread over several semester weekends my freshman year of college. We had one live burn and it lasted all of thirty seconds. Pretty pitiful. Another plus of this course will be that it will also be required for the shore side person in charge since they are half of the equation if the transfer ever goes awry.
Don't quote me on this next one in case it's as unlikely as it is ridiculous. Visual signaling for deckies may be reduced to recognition of a single Morse code signal. Yes, one dit-da and that would be it! Why not just abolish it all together?
Lastly, the required celestial navigation competencies for license upgrades, you know the one's we mates diligently worked out at sea with the Captain as a certified assessor right there by our side the whole time, would only require positions to be reduced from observations of the sun and stars only. No more high latitude back sights of Mars or the Moon at meridian transit. There will be a new component of celestial training as well. "Astro Navigation" or the use of satellites for position fixing will be included.
Might this change the celestial licensing exam? I think the better question is: will anyone from the U.S. actually be going to sea after these new STCW requirements are enacted sometime around 2010? Probably, but I don't think the prospects of a career at sea will include the old selling line of "Good money and lots of time off."