Friday, December 5, 2008

Rules, rules, and more rules

I do all I can to keep a positive outlook on my profession and future
expectations for a rewarding and successful career with logevity in
the maritime industry. I don't know how many times from my first days
as a cadet to my latest hitch I've heard my shipmates and mentors tell
me to "Find another job, your crazy to work at sea" or "Shipping isn't
what it used to be" or "I'm so glad I'm getting out of this now" . This
negativity serves no one who wants to go to sea but lately it's been
hard to tune out those echoing sentiments when the barrage of
regulations and personal liability only increases regardless of the
burden it places on the officers whose shoulders it usually falls on.

There have been a few things lately that highlight the unnerving
feeling that the rewards of working at sea are becoming fewer and
fewer with the ever changing environment we must operate in.

First the TWIC. It wasn't a big deal having to get one. I'm young and
don't have any felonies on my record. I've grown quite accustomed to
shelling out cash to keep my job; licensing fees at the coast guard,
union dues every quarter, baggage surcharges at the airport etc. (I
will say that writing a check to Lockheed Martin still doesn't sit
right with me. I don't see how corporate profit helps homeland
security). And personally I had no hassles getting the card besides
locating the center down a back alley in south Boston. What irks me is
that this increased scrutiny, this vetting of anyone involved with
vessels and ports, should not only increase security at our ports but
also make our jobs easier, not harder. Doesn't this card ensure I'm
really truly and finally not a terrorist and should be allowed to
come and go at the port without the hassles and gate guard
interrogations? Why do I still need to be on a crew list? Why are
there terminals that still won't allow citizen mariners access to a
Walgreens and haircut ashore?

(Foreign crews are really the ones being affected by the U.S.'s
overbearing security rules which is now causing reciprocal scrutiny of
Americans in other countries. Anyone who has had a retina scan in Abu
Dhabi or called on Canada lately with ANYTHING on their record can
attest to this)

This whole system is going to be yet another complete sham unless
there is coherent leadership in determining what rights a TWIC holder
is allowed to posses in all maritime facilities nationwide and if the
ports will actually allow the card holders the freedom we deserve as
lawful citizens just trying to live and work without constant
government scrutiny each time we leave the boat.

Secondly there is a new EPA ruling being imposed this month on all
vessels measuring 79 feet or longer within 3 miles of the United
States coast. This regulation is another strict and confusing
paperwork burdensome rule that heightens a vessels operator's
liability with stiff fines for noncompliance. The National Pollution
Discharge Elimination System requires a record to be maintained
on board the vessel tracking all discharges incidental to normal
operations such as; Ballast water (There is all ready is a record
keeping and reporting requirement for ballast), deck wash down, cathodic
protection, reverse osmosis brine, elevator pit effluent and gray
water just to name a few of the 28. Of course there is a permit
required which will assuredly cost whale watch outfits and shipping
companies alike a pretty penny. This new edition to the rule books
will certainly open the floodgates of more shore based, vacation eating
training with additional on board drills and log book entries just
like all other well meaning, poorly implemented obligations.

My conclusion is simply this. While every one is screaming about the
lack of qualified Mariner's domestically and internationally
regulatory bodies need to operate with a level of sobriety
commensurate with maintaining a functioning pool of willing merchant
mariners. TWIC cards and port security affects our personal lives. An
AB had to leave his wife and kids at the gate the other day because
they didn't have TWICs and was told to walk to the ship a good mile
down the quay, sea bags slung over his shoulders kicking off his four
month trip even though technically he should have been able to be
their escort!

Environmental regulations are necessary but more paperwork and
liability for the few officers on board ship all ready over tasked with
safety, security, GMDSS, medical, fatigue management, crew tracked
training, ISO/ISM and oh yeah, cargo responsibilities, is creating an
unsustainable and unrealistic work environment.

My brother has just started out on his own seafaring career and has
every intention of hawespiping his way up. If this country values the
men and women that play a vital role in Jones Act shipping, national
defense and perpetuating our maritime heritage into the future than
the maritime industry and it's stewards must maintain an environment
in which young able hands like him can develop a professional career
without constant shortsighted obstacles. Otherwise how will I ever be
able to recommend this job to anyone else let alone my kid brother?
And aren't jobs what this economy needs right now anyways?


  1. Sounds like it's time for you to start lobbying congressmen.

  2. So true. I feel as though I'm admitting failure, but I'm contemplating shifting over to tugs, just as I'm finishing my last trip as an AB. It just doesn't seem worth the hassle, and tugs, at least, are still able to operate with some autonomy.

  3. Tugs are exactly where I think my brother should head when he gets liscensed. I've been a licensed CM for the past year and have docked a ship zero times. On a tug you'll actually learn to drive a boat.