Coast Guard Bill Includes Many Labor-Backed Provisions

November 2010

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The U.S. Coast Authorization Act of 2010, signed by President Obama Oct. 15, includes a number of components strongly supported by maritime labor.


Among the legislation’s provisions most relevant to Seafarers are sections aimed at facilitating shore leave for mariners; improving the processing systems for TWIC cards and merchant mariner credentials; and establishing a medical advisory committee which includes not only health-care professionals but also merchant mariners.


Maritime labor also backed other sections of the 128-page bill, including one that will protect mariners from civil liability when they have defended themselves and their ships against acts of piracy.


According to the agency, other sections of the law improve maritime safety and bolster port security, in addition to “assisting the ongoing replacement of the service’s aging fleet.” The bill reportedly includes more than $10 billion for the Coast Guard for Fiscal Year 2011.


President Obama said the legislation “strengthens the Coast Guard as a military service and branch of the armed forces in the Department of Homeland Security by providing organizational flexibility for the Coast Guard and allowing for improvements to its military housing. Additionally, the act materially enhances the marine safety and maritime security missions of the Coast Guard….”


Section 811 of the law says that port security plans “shall provide a system for seamen assigned to a vessel at that facility, pilots, and representatives of seamen’s welfare and labor organizations to board and depart the vessel through the facility in a timely manner at no cost to the individual.”


Another part of the act (Section 210) amends Chapter 71 of title 46, United States Code, by establishing a Merchant Mariner Medical Advisory Committee. The law states that the group, generally tasked with easing and improving a merchant mariner medical review process many describe as onerous, “shall consist of 14 members, none of whom is a Federal employee, and shall include ten who are health-care professionals with particular expertise, knowledge, or experience regarding the medical examinations of merchant mariners or occupational medicine; and four who are professional mariners with knowledge and experience in mariner occupational requirements.”


Still other sections address mariner credentialing. The bill includes language allowing for extensions of existing merchant mariner credentials and Transportation Worker Identification Credentials if there’s a backlog in the Coast Guard’s processing of applications for renewals. It also aims to speed up such processing.


Additionally, the measure stipulates that “an owner, operator, time charterer, master, mariner, or individual who uses force or authorizes the use of force to defend a vessel of the United States against an act of piracy shall not be liable for monetary damages for any injury or death caused by such force to any person engaging in an act of piracy if such force was in accordance with standard rules for the use of force in self-defense of vessels prescribed by the Secretary…. To carry out the purpose of this section, the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating shall work through the International Maritime Organization to establish agreements to promote coordinated action among flag- and port-states to deter, protect against, and rapidly respond to piracy against the vessels of, and in the waters under the jurisdiction of, those nations, and to ensure limitations on liability similar to those established [elsewhere in the bill]…. Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this act, the Secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating, in consultation with representatives of industry and labor, shall develop standard rules for the use of force for self-defense of vessels of the United States.”

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