Sunday, September 23, 2012

September 24,2012: 2nd Request to Congress


Night Shift by Junior Libby

We are up in Annapolis again, only 30 minutes from Washington DC. While here we will be looking at progress on the National Mariners Association's (NMA) Second Request to Congress to act to protect American seamen serving on certain classes of tugs, tow boats and offshore service vessels. As documented in numerous NMA reports to Congress, and to the public in the form of the book  BLOOD ON BROWN WATER; far too many American seamen in these trades are subjected to working conditions that are illegal internationally, even in the third world. While most workers in the developed world, and even many parts of the Third World take for granted the 8 hour day; these crewmen are asking Congress to require the Coast Guard to actually enforce existing 12 hour maximum work day rules. At last check the request had not yet been accepted by a Congressional sponsor. We are certain that if this second request is ignored through October, the quest for these needed reforms will have to start again from scratch in January. We thought it now opportune to again call to our reader's attention , especially those of you who actually read BLOOD ON BROWN WATER here as a serial, the exact contents of this "Second Request to Congress".


Reference: Our Blog of March 28, 2012 "Wanted Another Richard Henry Dana"

 On March 28, 2012 we alerted our readers to the publication of the National Mariner's (NMA) report #R-370,Rev.4 which is now circulating in Congressional offices detailing the third world like working conditions overtaking 126,000 American seamen serving in the inland towing, off shore service vessel industry, and several other domestic "work boat" sectors. In that blog we noted that most of the domestic commercial  "work boat" fleets are manned by American Merchant Seamen and Officers who do not have union representation. We lamented the thirty plus year history of employer abuse of seamen in these fleets and the lack of media, Coast Guard,and  Department of Homeland Security Inspector General attention to this sorry state of affairs. In that blog we wished out loud for a modern day Richard Henry Dana and a modern version of his historic TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST . Nothing being written today, unfortunately including the graphically detailed but matter of fact presented reports of the NMA  is awakening a public which should be justifiably angry over governmental inattention to conditions that are inexcusable. These conditions according to NMA reports have not only negatively impacted the health of the pertinent seamen but have also induced chronic fatigue problems in the pilothouse and among designated look outs resulting in dozens of deaths of ordinary members of the American public engaged in such non maritime activity as simply trying to drive across a bridge over navigable water. In keeping with our commitment to provide coverage of the latest attempts by the NMA to correct these long standing problems we present in its entiriety the NMA's second request to Congress exactly as it was hand delivered last week to the offices of key committee members in the House of representatives. 

"DATE: March 29, 2012

FROM: Richard A. Block, Secretary , National Mariner's Association

TO: All Senators and representatives, U.S. Congress

SUBJECT: Second request for action to relieve certain U.S.Merchant Mariners from Third World like working conditions and to protect the U.S. Public from Harm by fatigue related marine accidents.

  • The National Mariner's Association represents approximately 126,000 American Merchant Mariners in our Cabotage and OCS trades working mostly aboard tugs, towboats,, offshore supply and support craft, ferries, and excursion craft, and other work boats generally of 1,600 gross registered tons and smaller.  We speak for both officers and ratings. Our Association is not a union but a professional association that monitors , researches, and advocates for our members and the public.
  • On February 14, 2003 our Association, by letter to 102 members of Congress, requested Congress to address meaningful work hour limitations for our mariners. The Congress did require the Coast Guard to study the issue and to eventually produce meaningful regulation. As we write, the Coast Guard has published highly useful scientific information on the effects of fatigue induced by a two -watch system upon our mariners. We have, in turn, produced a 16 -chapter spiral bound technical report titled : Abuse of Mariners Under the Two-Watch System, NMA Report #R370, Revision 4, which contains much of the information presented by the Coast Guard, exemplar cases of collisions and allisions resulting from fatigue. After our request of 2003 , the Congress also tasked the Coast Guard with enforcing regulations requiring the recording of working hours in the ship's log. Due to a lack of follow up regulation , poor oversight of Coast Guard marine safety functions, and lax enforcement, our mariners continue to suffer unacceptable working conditions. Damage to marine infrastructure and injury to non-maritime citizens continues to happen at unacceptable rates.
  • The International Maritime Organization (IMO) provides a model standard of minimum weekly rest period 77 hours and a standard 8-hour work day. Our mariners generally work 12 to 15 hours at a minimum per day and rarely are able to find 70 hours total rest within a work week. Through the International Convention on Standards of Training and Watch Keeping (STCW)  , mariners in similar trades in developed nations, and indeed in most of the third world that is signatory to the Convention, enjoy much healthier working hours and conditions than American work boat crews on average. Within our report #R-370, Rev.4, we present Coast Guard generated research that indicates that our exhausted work boat mariners are daily delivering supplies  and personnel to offshore rigs, and approaching bridges with large barge flotillas while fatigued impaired. The average level of impairment of judgement, perceptive, and decisional powers has been compared to that of a driver with a blood alcohol level near the mark where such a driver would be guilty of "driving under the influence".
  • yet, we have seen no corrective action by the Coast Guard and our pleas to the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General for more professional oversight of the Coast Guard marine safety functions have actually been met by a deliberate diminishment of professional maritime personnel from that office (see page 13-2 of our report) and reassignment of remaining maritime professionals to non maritime assignments.
 Since these dangers and abuses continue, we respectfully ask all Members of the 112th Congress the following:

  •  Amend 46 U.S. Code 8104(h) and other statutes if necessary to ensure an effective limit of 12 -hours of work in any 24 - hour period applicable to all officers and unlicensed mariners serving on every U.S. -flag inspected vessel, and provide appropriate statutory penalties applicable to corporate officials who require seamen to work beyond such limits and immunity from prosecution to ship's officers who comply with such orders but report the infractions to enforcement authority.
  • Require that  each inspected vessel in 24 hour service be manned by at least three (3) fully qualified, credentialed officers regardless of the length of the voyage.
  • Require that each inspected vessel in 24 hour service be manned by two complete crews that are capable of performing their duties without disturbing crew members who are off duty except in a bona fide emergency that could not have been anticipated through proper planning.
  • Address the issue of requiring a trained cook to manage food service on each inspected vessel in 24 hour service.
  • Express concern over the apparent lack of enforcement of section 607 (logbooks) of the USCG  authorization act of 2010.
  • Carefully scrutinize any audit reports of the under reporting of marine accidents by the DHS OIG Office as we have lost confidence in their maritime expertise and we believe that accidents are widely under reported within the fleets our members serve.
  • Examine why the Coast Guard internally denigrated its scientific research on hours- of- service and continues to allow 6 on and 6 off watch schedules that are scientifically unsupportable.
  • Examine our allegations of long standing lack of formal safety and vocational training for limited tonnage engineering personnel on OSVs, towing and small passenger vessels.
  • Examine our allegation that the DHS OIG no longer employs employees with sufficient technical background to audit Coast Guard safety programs

                                                                         Very truly yours
                                                                         Richard A. Block , B.A., M.S. Ed
                                                                         Master # 1186377, Issue #9
                                                                          Secretary, National Mariner's Association

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