Sunday, June 15, 2014


EDITOR's NOTE : We brought our readers the story of the National Mariners Association's 15 year fight to to get the Coast Guard to address a list of occupational hazards common to the various work boat trades within the American Merchant Marine. For 15 years the NMA meticulously documented the fact that such specific safety shortcomings as under reported marine accidents, second hand smoke, excessive working hours, unmitigated asbestos, tainted drinking water, etc. were actually sickening and killing mariners. Personal visits were made to many Congressmen, nothing happened. About two years ago the NMA deviated from its usual dry matter of fact heavily footnoted numbered technical reports and published "BLOOD ON BROWN WATER" the tale of the human carnage by exemplar cases. Bearing this book along with the relevant reports the Congress was again lobbied daily for three months. All to no avail. The NMA had given up on complaining to the Coast Guard several years before the publication of "BLOOD ON BROWN WATER since in decades of lobbying the Coast Guard for action on safety matters there had been almost no real action. Now the NMA President, Capt. Richard Block reports in a letter to the membership that he believes that they actually have the ear of a Coast Guard regulator willing to listen. In a separate post we publish his letter and summary of the issues with references. We appeal to all merchant mariners, especially in the "work boat" trades to use the information in Capt. Block's open letter to contact the Coast Guard directly on the issues using the contact data he provides. We also urge ordinary citizens to contact your Congressman and demand action on these issues. Mariners have not been the only people killed when these conditions lead to accidents , especially when bridges are hit. While "BLOOD ON BROWN WATER" is available in paper bound form, with permission we published it as an E-book when it first came out. Below we reprint the prologue. Visitors may read it in its entirety on line in our Merchant Marine INTEREST Pages , just scroll down after entering. We also hope that our readers from th egeneral public and other maritime sectors outside of the work boat trades will read Capt. Block's letter and summary following this post and refer to it whne communicating with elected representatives.


First part of a serialization of Blood on Brown WaterNMA Report No.R- 213 by Capt. Richard Block which is now making the rounds of the Halls of Congress.


 As you read this book, many of America's 126,000 merchant seamen who serve on vessels of less than 1,600 gross tons (I.e., about 60% of the entire 210,000 U.S. merchant mariners) are laboring , and some are even dying under third -world working conditions on the rivers and inland waters of the United States, on the American Outer Continental Shelf waters, and off the coast of Alaska. The United States Coast Guard, OSHA, the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, and relevant Congressional Committees are well aware of this situation.

 Of more immediate concern to you, the reader, is the fact that these conditions all too often result in mariners so impaired on the navigation bridge that their cognitive performance is no better than that of a driver under the influence of alcohol. In the last few decades these fatigue impaired mariners, victims themselves of under manning and overwork in the service of greedy corporations, have struck many bridges over navigable waters and have sent dozens of automobiles, one passenger train, and one bus hurtling into the waters below with tragic and fatal results.

 These mariners serving mostly in the Jones Act domestic trades on our near coastal and inland waters aboard vessels of limited size but still able to inflict real damage on our maritime infrastructure are rarely served by labor unions that provide responsible training for their members. These mariners have no voice in the work place and are routinely abused and forced into fatigue induced states where no person should ever be operating machinery of any sort much less navigating vessels capable of taking down bridges, power lines, and damaging other structures. These same fatigued mariners are attempting to unload people and cargoes in high seas from supply vessels to offshore oil rigs and often being killed and maimed in the process. Our mariners, unlike their employers, belong to no powerful lobbying organizations able to offer cushy retirement jobs to senior Coast Guard officers; and, above all, our mariners have been easy to ignore.

 Much of this happens to our mariners out of sight of land or in remote locations wherever the industry functions. It happens to mariners scattered across many Congressional districts. It happens during or at the end of their weeks to months' long tours of duty. Our mariners make up a majority in no Congressional District.

 While losing a tugboat or an OSV or one or two deckhands may be front-page news in Texas, Louisiana, or other local media outlets, it probably won't make the national news, and the crew members' homes will be widely scattered mostly rural counties in the South. The boat company is free to recruit more hands to replace the dead and the entire process is reduced to a mere inconvenience. 

 When complaints are lodged with government regulators and departmental Inspectors General, they are dismissed as "labor disputes". When the occasional ordinary citizen is killed crossing a bridge at the wrong moment it draws little notice nationally. Such "civilian deaths" while all too common are nonetheless spread apart by time and distance and nobody seems to see the pattern except a tiny voice in the wilderness known as the National Mariner's Association whose accurate, alarming, but relatively dry and and technical reports are routinely shelved by all responsible branches of government. 

 In this book we will tell you, as members of the American Public, some of the true horror stories of what is going on offshore or even "inside the levee" in the hopes that an aroused public will be able to move Congress to act, where the rattle of dry facts and figures have been unable to do so. Seafaring American merchant seamen once faced similar conditions. Reform began with the publication of a single book-Richard Henry Dana's "TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST". Today's blue-water American merchant seamen are protected by statute from excessive work hours and improper provisioning, and by strong unions that insure decent working conditions. By contrast, too many of our Jones Act seamen do not even receive the woefully inadequate protections of the minimal regulations that apply to them. The result is death, dismemberment, and debilitating injury for both seamen and occasionally the innocent bystander in the thirty six American States served by inland and coastal navigation.

 We can't wait for another Richard Henry Dana to appear so we have brought some of the on-going horror stories straight from the pages of the National Mariners Association's documents. We urge you to read, and then to react by contacting Congress and demanding reform. (To be continued)

The following reports from the NMA illustrate some of the accidents mentioned in passing in the Prologue.To order reports click on the hyper link provided below.

Maritime Accidents – Bridge Allisions.
£R-293-A.  Rev.3.  June 1, 2008.  Towboats and Bridges, A Dangerous Mix.,  28p.  $6.60.
£R-293-B.  Rev. 6. Dec. 7, 2008.  We Urge Congress to Look Into Overhead Clearance Accidents.  13p. $3.60[Previously numbered #R-411, Rev. 4, June 1, 2008]
£R-293-C.  Apr. 25, 2005.  Allision Involving the M/V Brownwater V and the Queen Isabella Causeway Bridge, Port Isabel, Texas Sept. 15, 2001.  37p.  $8.40  [USCG Report Reprint.] [Also see Report #R-399.]

£R-300.  Jan. 9, 2002.  Chao, Secretary of Labor vs. Mallard Bay Drilling, Inc.  [Reprint of U.S. Supreme Court Decision]  10p.  $3.00.
£R-301.  Uninspected Towing Vessel Workplace Safety Considerations. 42p.  $9.40.

£R-302.  Guide for Investigating for Fatigue.  [Reprint of Transportation Safety Board of Canada report]. 26p.  $6.20.

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