U.S. Coast Guard: Sturdy Alliance With Labor, Ship Operators Holds Key to Future of Maritime Industry


April 2011

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Maintaining a strong and healthy partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard, labor unions, and shipping companies is a key to the continued and long-term success of the U.S. maritime industry.

 

This was the central message proffered by Rear Adm. Kevin Cook and Jeffrey Lantz during their addresses to the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department (MTD) executive board during the body’s Feb. 24-25 meetings in Orlando, Fla. Admiral Cook is director for prevention policy, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), while Lantz serves as director, commercial regulations and standards, for the USCG assistant commandant for maritime safety, security and stewardship.

 

Cook launched his presentation with a look back at the disaster response actions taken by Seafarers, shipowners and the Coast Guard during the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. “I’d like to offer my congratulations and thanks for all of the support all of you provided during this effort in helping to resolve this crisis,” he said. “At that time I know it was big on the Coast Guard’s plate and we thought it would be our biggest challenge in 2010, but as you know we moved on and got other homework with the Deepwater Horizon assignment.”

 

The admiral said that at the height of the Deepwater Horizon response, the Coast Guard was overseeing operations involving 48,000 people, 9,000 vessels and 127 aircraft. In addition, 10 million feet of boom had been deployed under the Coast Guard’s direction. “But I think ultimately that the thing that all of us will never forget is that tragically 11 mariners lost their lives in that explosion.”

 

The admiral then informed the audience that his commanding officer had identified the enhancement of stakeholders’ partnership as one of the Coast Guard’s central goals. “I would say that our partnership in general with the U.S. maritime interests and unions are very strong as it is,” he said. “You are always there when we need you and certainly are there when the country needs you. Although we’ll work to strengthen our partnerships, I’m really pleased with the state that they are at right now.”

 

He then addressed several issues that are especially relevant to members of the MTD executive board and the department’s member unions: the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC), seafarer port access, piracy and mariner credentialing.

 

The TWIC reader pilot project now has been going on for a couple of years, according to Cook. Currently, he said, there are 16 participants in the project ranging from small passenger vessel operators to large container terminal operators that are spread out all around the country. These participants are in the final stages of collecting data for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) which in turn will provide a report to Congress. Once these reports have been filed, the Coast Guard will be able to define what the parameters are for TWIC readers to be deployed throughout the country, Cook said. “We’ll then be able to move to a much more effective use of the card.”

He added that the Coast Guard already has given 161 portable TWIC identification readers to captains of the port throughout the country and that mariners can expect the see them with greater frequency along with Coast Guard inspections on MTSA facilities. “Some of your people may be asked to produce their TWIC cards as we do a validation of identification versus how the card is displayed,” the admiral said. “It’s an internal check to make sure that the system is working and to make sure that the people that are using the TWIC as identification are really the people that deserve to have that TWIC.”

 

Moving to Seafarer access, Cook noted that this matter has and continues to be an area of concern, but based on the number of complains he has received over the last year seems to be decreasing. “The guidance that I personally put out required all of our captains of the ports to go back and review each facility security plan and look for three things: make sure that mariner access was in the plan, make sure it was properly addressed and third whatever was in the plan to make sure that’s what the company was actually doing,” he said. “That was a huge effort and we found issues with one out every10 plans that were reviewed and it provided a lot more consistency.”

 

Cook pointed out that the Coast Guard still hears about access issues, but primarily they seem to be more individual in nature and involve either a specific terminal or someone’s very bad experience.

 

“We try to follow up on them as quickly as possible,” Cook said, “but I think we’re going to be taking this to a whole new level in the very near term as the Coast Guard Authorization Act was signed into law in October.” This legislation includes an additional provision for facility security plans that identify a system for mariners, pilots, seamen’s welfare and labor organization representatives to board and depart vessels through facilities in a timely manner at no cost to the individual, he said.

 

Regarding piracy, Cook said the agency deeply shares the concerns of maritime labor “and we work hard within the government interagency to promote an understanding and a common way forward that provides the best set of flag-state recommendations and requirements for our U.S.-flag operators. We also do a lot of work internationally to try to promote an international solution…. We think ultimately that’s where the solution needs to reside.”

 

He thanked American operators and crews for the way they have stood behind the requirements put forward through a Coast Guard directive covering “best practices” for combating piracy “well ahead of the rest of the world.” He added that while the notion of embarked armed security teams was not popular internationally, most of the U.S. operators whose vessels sail in dangerous waters elected that option “and it has proven to be successful. There has not been a ship hijacked that has an armed team on board and I think that’s what it’s going to take to maintain safety and security out there.”

 

Cook told the audience that he had read a release from the International Chamber of Shipping indicating that their position on embarked armed security teams had changed and they have become more open to the idea.

 

Addressing the issue of mariner credentialing, the admiral said the Coast Guard is taking a critical look at the process. “We know we have issues that we need to improve on right here today,” he said. “We had meetings with the maritime (union) presidents and the medical review process is the emerging issue with a number of folks who need to get their licenses to the National Maritime Center. I just want you to know that we heard you and we’ve set up a dedicated desk within the call center that is always manned by a medical professional to facilitate more timely resolutions of issues.”

 

He also pointed out that in the last 18 months, the average processing time for issuing licenses has dropped from around 120 days to 60 days. He indicated that for the first time, the credentialing function is fully staffed and despite missing the Coast Guard’s target of 30 days turnaround time, he thought that they were still doing very well.

 

Lantz heads the U.S. delegation to two International Maritime Organization committees and several subcommittees. He has the MTD’s backing for the position of secretary-general of the IMO; the election is scheduled to take place later this year.

 

Lantz brought the audience up to speed on the progress being made on the ratification of several significant International Labor Organization (ILO) standards affecting the maritime industry including the Seafarers’ Identity Document Convention (ILO Convention 185), the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC), the STCW Convention and medical requirements.

 

After briefing them on the process employed by the U.S. government when considering ILO conventions, Lantz said the secretary of labor in May 210 convened a meeting of the President’s Committee to consider the ratification of ILO Convention 185, which has the support of the MTD.

 

“The Department of Labor is leading this effort,” Lantz said, “but I call tell you that the Coast Guard continues to support the ratification of ILO Convention 185. I think that we all know that the issue with this convention is the issue with visas. It is a sticking point with CBP and the Department of State.”

 

Lantz said the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2010 completed its study on Convention 185, and that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are next in line to examine it to ascertain what risks may be presented if it is ratified.

 

That work has yet to be undertaken, he said, but the Coast Guard has passed a rulemaking that establishes a merchant mariner credential which is consistent with the convention at hand. “And this is what we will be issuing to all U.S. mariners so that in the event that we should ever ratify this convention, the mariners (already) will have the documentation.”

 

With respect to the MLC, Lantz said the President’s Committee looked at this rule at the same time it examined Convention 185. “They decided that they needed to move forward on it,” he said.

 

“The Coast Guard is taking the lead on this,” he continued. “We believe that this convention is very positive and … we will support its ratification. We have been working with the Maritime Administration on this and in August 2010 held a public meeting to provide the industry with a background of this convention.”

Turning his attention to STCW Convention 2010, Lantz told those in attendance that he was keenly aware of how significant these standards are to mariners and that quite frankly, it contained a number of shortcomings.

 

“I’m sure that everyone knows that we have published a notice of proposed rulemaking to implement the 1995 amendments to the STCW Convention and IMO,” he said. “We also know that notice was not very well received and rightfully so…. There were a number of things that weren’t right.”

 

Lantz pointed out that the Coast Guard in March came out with a notice saying that his agency was going to reconsider its original proposal and would be publishing a supplemental notice. Since that time, he said, the IMO has revised the STCW Convention 2010 with amendments and further that the Coast Guard’s intention is to include these amendments in its proposed rulemaking.

 

“I want to point out that deciding to publish a supplemental notice was in no small part due to the comments we received from Mike [MTD President Michael Sacco] and his organization on the things we have had wrong,” he said. “I want to emphasize that when we do this rulemaking, we do try to be inclusive. Sometimes we don’t get it right but that’s why we have these proposals and we do appreciate the comments.”

 

Lantz said the Coast Guard received more than 1,000 comments on the rulemaking at hand. The problem his agency now faces is getting this rulemaking out in time; the amendments are supposed to enter into force Jan. 1, 2012.

 

On the licensing and credentialing front, Lantz said that the charter for Coast Guard’s Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee (MERPAC) is yet to be signed. “That’s very discouraging and the membership of that advisory committee still has not been approved,” he said. “I can tell you that the Coast Guard has been pushing very, very hard to get this done…. Some of you in the room have been pushing also and we appreciate your efforts.”

 

He concluded, “The Coast Guard is committed to working with labor. We appreciate the help you’ve given us; you’ve been sitting with us as we go over to IMO and I know you’ll be sitting with us when we go over to ILO. We look forward to this continued cooperation.


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Rear Admiral Kevin Cook

Rear Admiral Kevin Cook, U.S. Coast Guard.

 

Jeffrey Lantz

Jeffrey Lantz, Director, Commercial Regulations and Standards, U.S. Coast Guard Asst. Commandant for Maritime Safety, Security & Stewardship