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I have been a licensed mariner for well over 20 years now, and I cannot believe some of the
new rules and regulations the United States Coast Guard and companies are now handing
down to us. All you have to do is travel down Interstate 10 along the Gulf Coast and you will
see huge billboards from Inland and Offshore companies seeking entire crews for their
vessels, pick up any newspaper now days, and look at the “Help Wanted” ads, you will a
significant number of ads from these companies as well. All along the ICW in Louisiana,
there are flashing signs from companies offering top dollar and what they perceive as good
benefits, attempting to attract mariners, and even some companies have gone and placed
huge stickers on their barges, as well as others hanging 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood in trees
alongside the canal and the LMR. It is no secret that there is a shortage of personal in the
maritime industry, just as there is a shortage in the American workforce.
Terri Pringle with the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission publicly stated that,
“Companies are desperate to find employees”. In an April 2006 survey of human resource
executives, two-thirds of those answering said, “ Retaining workers is becoming more
difficult”, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago based outplacement firm.
As a result, employers have been forced to turn to methods other than salary raises to keep
workers, including enhanced benefits, tuition reimbursement and additional training.
Truer words have never been spoken. As of last week, I spoke with various captains that
stated their wages have gone up, but their benefits still needed a boost as well. A leading
member of AWO publicly stated that there is not a problem finding personnel to put on their
boats, the problem they were having was retaining those people. Trip pilots are making in
excess of $500.00 a day now, depending on the size vessel and tow you shove, while
regular employees are making much less than that per day. I understand very well that trip-
pilots do not have the advantage of having paid insurance, 401k plan and other benefits,
but working as a trip pilot, a person can afford to buy their own insurance and invest in a
defined retirement plan. I feel if the companies can pay a trip pilot those type wages, why
can’t they boost full time employee’s benefits some.
And then we have the USCG breathing down our necks. I just finished reading and
rereading the draft of the Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) # XX-06, which
will replace NVIC 2-98, which provides guidance for evaluating the physical and medical
conditions of applicants for Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMC). In this NVIC, there are
now two-hundred-two (202) conditions that are potentially disqualifying for issuance of MMC
and the appropriate supplemental tests and evaluations for requesting waivers for
disqualifying conditions. The final determination regarding issuance of all MMC lies within
the Coast Guard. Now, it seems not only do we have the AWO and some of its member
companies trying to destroy the American Merchant Marine Fleet, which includes Inland and
Offshore, but also the USCG is trying to do their part as well.
The NVIC goes on to state that “All members of a crew must be medically and physically fit
to perform their duties not only on a routine basis but also in an emergency”. A medical
condition is considered to cause “significant functional impairment” It impairs the ability of
the applicant to fully perform all of the physical abilities listed in the NVIC, or otherwise
interferes with the ability of the applicant to fully perform the duties and responsibilities of
the MMC applied for.
Over the years, many new rules and regulations have come into effect, but none of them
had or will have the impact that NVIC XX-06 will have upon the Maritime Industry. We have
seen the USCG impose user fees on us, required Radar Endorsement, Vessel Security
Training, as well as many more and much more training to come in the future. But, NVIC XX-
06 will be putting some of us “OUT” of the industry forever. The companies realize that
within the senior crew members is where the experience lies. They are having a very hard
time to find fresh meat for the industry, and the ones that are in the industry, companies
and the AWO are scrambling to get those individuals trained for the wheelhouse. But, even
so, with the new Steersman/Apprentice License, it will still take them at a minimum 3 ½ years
to qualify for a Master’s License, and just how many Senior Mariners will either be retired or
forced out of the industry because of this new NVIC and are the AWO, AWO Member
Companies and Non-Member Companies going to sit idly by and let this happen? I feel all
maritime groups, companies, unions, associations and mariners should ban together for
once and try our best to come to a neutral ground and help one another for a change. Not
only is the NVIC going to effect the working mariner and the companies, it will also effect the
mariners family and all they have worked for their entire life. The companies will be affected
by this because they do not and will not have anyone to replace the mariner with, which will
then create a greater shortage of qualified crew members.
Some of the conditions that are listed in the NVIC are some things that almost every
mariner over the age of 45 lives with everyday of their life, be it Diabetes, High Blood
Pressure, Irregular Heartbeat or just can’t blow long enough or hard enough through a tube.
These are just a few of the things that could disqualify a mariner from receiving their MMC. If
you are fortunate enough to get a medical waiver, you have to spend hundreds of extra
dollars for the tests that the USCG will require you to have. The USCG has also publicly
stated that 5% of all medical waiver requests are denied. There is the possibility that you
may lose your license for a few months, or forever, while they consider giving you your
license or not. In the mean time, you are sitting at home with no check coming in, and the
company either scrambles to find a replacement or lets a boat sit idle because they cannot
find a crew for it.
As for the fresh meat in the industry, companies are now offering $100.00 - $120.00 per
day for an inexperienced deckhand that has to work a minimum of 12 hours a day and
sometimes as much as 24 hours a day. Any young man in his right mind would look at that
and laugh and think, “why should I do that, when I can get a job at Wal-Mart for $10.00 an
hour stocking shelves, being home every night and good benefits?” The AWO and
companies alike need to wake up and see what is going on around them. Day rates for
vessels are at an all-time high, the cost of inflation has risen drastically, gasoline now
exceeds $3.00 a gallon, and our wages and benefits have remained basically the same as 5
years ago. If the companies and the USCG continue on this path, the United States will have
the best regulated non-existent merchant marine fleet in the world.
Responses to Capt. Hensley's submission are welcome and will be printed. Send all
correspondence to . Please type "Where will it end" in the subject
line of your emailed response.