Thursday, August 23, 2012

Merchant Marine Interest: NMA News Release Exam Question Data Base


 If you followed our serial presentation of the book BLOOD ON BROWN WATER you may recall that it was produced by the professional seaman's "watchdog" organization the National Mariner's Association:

 While the battle for the NMA's "SECOND REQUEST TO CONGRESS" ( for reform of the two watch system) continues the NMA has won a significant battle for the merchant mariner facing Coast Guard occupational examination. We actually carried the news of the successful appeal by the NMA against a Coast Guard decision to remove the professional examination question data base from public access about a week ago. This all important data base for educators preparing instructional programs for merchant mariners seeking to advance was withheld for 17 months. As reported in the NMA news release signed by NMA Board of Directors Member V.J. Gianelloni ( Former Director of the Louisiana Marine and Petroleum Institute), the Coast Guard continues to delay implementation of the Commandant's Decision on Appeal. We have decided to post the entire press release here.

 NMA produced a multi- page "Report to Congress" (NMA Report  No. R-428-K). In this report the NMA explains why it is important that nautical educators have access to the examination question data base which they gained after a protracted battle with the bureaucracy in 1988. On superficial examination it might not seem like a bad idea to keep thousands of examination questions secret. But the truth is no one can prepare for a comprehensive professional examination that goes on for days and consists of hundreds of questions drawn randomly form a data base of thousands of potential exam questions. Other examining authorities for other licensed occupations readily share such data bases with educators.

  In the case of the Coast Guard in 1988 it was critical because the opening of the data base to the educators revealed hundreds of inaccurate , inappropriate questions and numerous legitimate questions with wrong answers. Over the years these were corrected at the request of the educators. This review, and it was continuing when the system was closed was performed by the nautical academics at no cost to government. When the system was closed the National Maritime Center of the Coast Guard was about to pass responsibility for the data base to a contractor, closing the system would make that contractor the only source of training with such access, eliminating such public institutions as Louisiana Marine and Petroleum Institute, or Brazos Port Community College, or any of a half a dozen other junior colleges around the nation as a competitive source of training. This elimination of competition among training sources for the Merchant Marine was slated to occur at a time when the estimated cost of training for advancement from ordinary seaman to any of the mate's (officer) grades was about $78,100. Given the shrinking labor pool this isn't the time to eliminate inexpensive public post secondary training sources.  Here is a link to the relevant NMA Report to Congress.,_Rev._3r.pdf

Below in its entirety is the latest news release:


Date: Tuesday August 21, 2012- 12:00 CDST
Contact: V.J. Gianelloni , Commander, USCGR (ret.). Telephone: 985-594-9266 (Bourg, LA)
[B.S. (eng.) Kings Point '64; JD (Loyola Law NOLA '71), Member National Mariner's Association Board of Directors: Licensed Chief Engineer, Steam and Motor & Gas Turbine Vessels of Any Horsepower , Issue #13]

Of interest to: 214,000 credentialed mariners, commercial vessel owners & operators and other maritime interests.


 The National Mariner's Association (NMA) and the founder of the National Association of Maritime Educators (NAME) received official notification granting an appeal of an extremely detrimental and economically damaging action by the U.S. Coast Guard's National Maritime Center that affected many commercial mariners. 

 The action adversely affected all merchant mariners seeking to obtain or upgrade their professional "seaman's credentials". For example , mariners at all levels have seen the cost of training soar in recent years. In 2008, one towing company stated in the Coast Guard publication Proceedings "The cost to advance one deckhand to mate through the apprentice mate system was...about $78,1000".

 USCG credentials are necessary for employment on all vessels included under the marine inspection laws of the United States. This includes licensed officers and crew on virtually all commercial vessels including cargo ships, tankers, passenger vessels of all sizes , towing vessels, offshore supply vessels, and even offshore drilling rigs. This also includes the crews of state toll ferry systems in Louisiana, Texas, Washington, Alaska, North Carolina and others that carry millions of passengers each year.

 The formal appeal to Commandant Robert J. Papp sought to reverse his National Maritime Center's abrupt removal of over 25,000 multiple choice questions used on all USCG deck and engineering exams for officers and ratings (unlicensed crew) from the official U.S. Coast Guard website on July 12, 2010. The Association's appeal was granted on August 3, 2012.

 The Secretary of the National Mariner's Association subsequently addressed two further FOIA requests to Captain Paul F. Thomas, the signer of the notice of approval. 

  • Furnish a complete copy of the Coast Guard's file on this matter-with any claimed exemptions and redactions in accord with the U.S. Supreme Court's "Milner" decision.
  • When will the database be "back on line" The database was withheld from the public for 17 months after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark "Milner" decision while it was used for creating new exams. In our opinion any further delay would violate the intent of the "Milner" ruling.
 NMA also will request an official Coast Guard inquiry into the actions of former Commanding Officer of the National Maritime Center who, we understand , deleted the database on his own authority. There appears to be a conflict of interest since this occurred less than a month before he retired and subsequently was employed by the American Bureau of shipping (ABS) to develop exam questions for the same data base. This appears to NMA to be highly improper and possible illegal conflict of interest.

 For full details on this matter go to the NMA website and down load NMA Report #R-428-K, revision 3 which also contains a copy of the Coast Guard letter granting the NMA appeal to return the database to unrestricted public availability.

 NMA encourages mariners who incurred financial damages such as expense for study, room , board, travel, book purchases, as well as attending costly classes as a result of the unavailability of the database exam questions and illustrations over a two year period to contact NMA in writing to join a list of potential plaintiffs in a Class Action lawsuit for recovery of damages for delayed or lost employment opportunities in violation of the Freedom of Information Act as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court in Milner v. Department of the Navy, decided March 7, 2011.

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