SOME NEW NAVAL SUPPLY VESSELS WILL BE RE-DESIGNATED "WAR SHIPS" FOR THE SEA BASING MISSION
Tactically and strategically This is a smart move but beyond the immediate this is a kicking the can down the road on certain manning issues as well as the utilization and coordination between certain elements of the U.S Merchant Marine and the US Navy.
U.S. Navy "Sea Base "Ships were intended as naval supply
vessels with a capability to stay on scene in support of littoral and on shore operations. It was originally intended to designate them them Military Sea lift Command vessels manned for the most part by Navy CIVMARS (Civilian Mariners akaMerchant Marine personnel) but now the Navy announces that the ships will be designated "War Ships",commanded by commissioned naval officers and manned by enlisted Navy Crews.
This designation will impart to the ships and their officers the duties, and privileges of "war ships (such as being treated as "Sovereign Territory" able to provide asylum (in coordination with the State Department), and the commissioned officers aboard may provide notary and other consular functions. . The designation allows for greater armament and more uniform rules of engagement in any theater of operations. By manning the vessels with naval crews vice the "CIVMARS" the Navy temporarily and partially resolves one of itstwo major retention issues at the moment .
The Navy has two major retention issues right now. First the Navy can not recruit and retain enough "CIVMARS" (Merchant Mariners) to adequately man its supply vessel fleet. This has led to "carrying over" individual crewmen in rather large numbers for additional voyages that they did not expect or sign up for. Too many "CIVMARS" have had to resign civil service in order to get off the ships. Some come back but the gap in service negatively affects their civil service benefits especially retirement computations. The second major retention problem the Navy is having is growing release from active duty of Third and Second class petty officers in the ship operational rates, exactly the people they are turning to to solve the CIVMAR shortage. What is driving these uniformed maritime professionals out of the active duty Navy is the deployment schedules for too many war ships. So to keep the supply chain running the Navy proposes to substitute the CIVMARS they can't retain with naval officers and petty officers they can't retain.
Simultaneous with this personnel movement the Navy is trying to re-channel as many exiting naval operating personnel as possible to the MSC ships as new "CIVMARS" (Merchant Mariners). Given the operating schedules or lack there of in the MSC it is doubtful that the Navy will be able to retain their newly departed petty officers for very long as Merchant Mariners of any sort. This why the Navy should look into the cross over of "Jones Act Merchant Mariners" to blue water operations for career enhancement purposes, particularly lateral mobility ( as in your are an Able Seaman or offshore oil industry mate and you see a job posted that you know you can do as an able seaman or third mate but the officer licensing and mariner credentialing system run by the Coast Guard makes it difficult to cross over). To facilitate the cross over of exiting Naval operational petty officers to the MSC the Coast Guard and the Navy have entered into examination , licensing, and documentation fee waivers for exiting Navy officers and petty officers and other measures that facilitate the cross over from Navy to Merchant Mariner.
More needs to be done to facilitate Jones Act mariners that want to cross over and in WWII it was done. More needs to be done to educate both the Navy brass and the exiting Navy professionals about the entire U.S. Merchant Marine including its largest, and most economically robust segment the ,Jones act trades. If you want to keep a former naval mariner in the Merchant Marine you can't have his or her first voyage be their worst. Navy rates about to exit should get an orientation to the entirety of the Merchant Marine, and understanding of the differences between the various trades and fleets and the officer and ratings credentialing system. Most important all new entrants to the Merchant Marine must come to understand the nature of the peace time Merchant Marine as a job market. Rank is not permanent and the market at any given moment reflects different compensation for different credentialed and non credentialed skill levels. For example all members should have an Unlimited Able Seaman's card with bridge team endorsement . This allows cross over between blue, green, and brown water trades at a skilled level.
In the Gulf of Mexico offshore oil industry support trades there is a need for "Barge Masters" for a variety of non self propelled barges such as the "lay barges" that build subsurface pipe lines. Because of the non self propelled nature of these large vessels often the only Credential that the Coast Guard demands for the master and mate positions is the unlimited AB. However the compensation for these AB/"Company designated "Masters" is far better than some positions legally requiring an actual master's license. For example the large day excursion boat and inland over night cruise vessels offer very pleasant work environments and some great rotational schedules as well. Needless to say there is plenty of interest in these jobs by licensed officers at some point in their careers. Consequently because Merchant Marine Service in peace time is a job market, the law of supply and demand affects compensation , the inland and near coastal American Flag passenger trades do not compete with grimy industrial lay barges on compensation. The lay barges on the other hand can not fill their master and mates billets with just any old unlimited AB. The owners of lay barges need AB/ acting masters with strong supervisory experience and serious knowledge about rigging. Senior boatswains mates with the right AB "ticket"and just a little industry experience seem a perfect fit. The lesson in this comparison is that every merchant mariner needs a resume as well as
merchant mariners credential.
The highest pay doesn't always go the highest officer license. A Merchant Mariner can make a very substantial income on an AB's certificate and the right types of non-credentialed experiences and training. That's what the resume is for. The impermanence of officer status is sometimes hard for exiting naval commissioned officers to understand. In the Merchant Marine you get credentials to participate in a very special job market, you don't get a "position in life" or for life. This is what exiting naval bridge team and black gang members of all ranks have to realize and accept.
Now of course the Navy had other reasons besides the shortage of "CIVMARS" for this move and we mentioned some of them in our lead up to the our discussion of the Navy / MSC personnel shortage. The Navy needs "sea bases", high endurance , high cargo capacity vessels that aren't hauling the beans and bullets from shore to the theater of operations but storing and distributing supplies safely offshore from the usual hostilities. Such vessels will be subject to attack if the enemy has any blue water capability . These Sea Base ships will also need shuttle craft capable of hauling large lots of cargo and large pieces of equipment. The "Bo Trucks" or offshore supply vessels of the OCS ( Outer Continental Shelf) Jones Act trades would be a perfect fit. It is time for naval planners and policy makers to learn what the U.S Merchant Marine really is and work with it to enhance our national sea power. We will probably post more on these subjects as they have struck a raw nerve at a time when certain members of Congress are actually considering eliminating the "Jones Act", which would destroy not an ancillary feature of the U.S> Merchant Marine but the root , the heart, and the core of this "industry" that in the past has been militarized and placed at the disposal of the Chief of Naval Operations almost over night.