BLOOD ON BROWN WATER (EPILOGUE)
There are in excess of 210,000 certificated merchant mariners in the United States. Of this number, approximately 126,000 are “limited-tonnage” mariners serving on vessels of less than 1,600 gross tons. The towing industry is an important segment of the U.S. Merchant Marine and employs at least 32,000 people on an estimated 6,100 towing vessels. The Government predicts that waterborne commerce will increase substantially in the next decade. Nevertheless, the marine industry faces a growing shortage of personnel to man its vessels. Although many industry leaders don’t seem to have a clue as to the causes of the underlying problem, this book provides anecdotal evidence from a number of “limited-tonnage” mariners that deserves wider attention. In 1996, American Inland Mariners Association, a predecessor of NMA rallied a large number of mariners to respond to proposed changes in licensing regulations that went into effect in 2001. As a result, over 800 comments were submitted to the public rulemaking docket. Although a number of serious issues were raised, many were poorly handled after the release of the resulting Final Rule because of subsequent mismanagement by the Marine Safety Directorate at Coast Guard Headquarters, many of
the Coast Guard’s Regional Exam Centers, and above all by the National Maritime Center.(1) [(1)Refer to NMA reports to Congress #R-428-D and #R-428-D, Rev. 1.]
In 1998, Pilots Agree, a grass roots mariner organization with a reported membership of 1,500, staged a job action when the management of towing vessel companies in mid-America refused to meet with its organizers to discuss working conditions. Although the strike eventually was broken, so was the morale of mariners and with it went the myth that management truly respected its towing vessel officers. In June 2000, our Association published a book titled Mariners Speak Out on Violations of the 12- Hour Work Day. The book, presented to senior Coast Guard officials at District and national Headquarters level, was a snapshot of conditions submitted by 57 working mariners in the towing industry and the offshore oil industry.(1) The Coast Guard Marine Safety Directorate ignored the book and refused to investigate its allegations. [(1)NMA Report #R-201].