Union Weighs in on STCW Amendments

November 2011

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The SIU in late September formally submitted comments to the Department of Transportation concerning proposals for implementing the latest round of amendments to the STCW convention.

 

Specifically, both the union and its affiliated Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education responded to a government supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM) titled USCG-2004- 17914, Implementation of the Amendments to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978 (STCW), and Changes to Domestic Endorsements.

 

Responding on behalf of the union and school, SIU Executive Vice President Augie Tellez first stated that the industry should be given more than 60 days to constructively examine and further comment upon the SNPRM. (The original deadline for comments was Sept. 30.) “Given the expanse of the document and the subjects covered, we request that the comment period be extended a minimum of 45-60 days to allow sufficient time for stakeholders to comment and provide meaningful recommendations to the supplemental proposal,” he wrote. “In addition, with regard to the provision for new towing endorsements included in the supplemental notice, we recommend that this provision be transferred to the new Subchapter M proposed rulemaking dealing with the inspection of towing vessels. In our view, the creation of the new towing endorsements is unrelated to the STCW, raises serious safety concerns, and should not be fast-tracked as part of a final rule to implement the STCW amendments.”

 

He went on to offer feedback on a number of aspects of the proposed rulemaking, including issues pertaining to application procedures, medical certification, training and certification requirements and more. Excerpts from the jointly submitted comments follow.


Medical Certification: There are a number of questions which surfaced while reading the supplemental notice with regard to medical certificate documentation and recordkeeping. Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMC) are valid for five years, yet the medical certificates for STCW endorsements are to be updated every two years with a threemonth grace period while the mariner is sailing internationally. We request clarification and response to the following questions: (1) will the mariner be required to renew his or her STCW endorsements with the Coast Guard every two years when the medical certificate is renewed? (2) will there be an expiration date within the MMC under the international pages for their physical every two years? (3) who will track this information if it is not indicated in the MMC? (4) how will the requirement be enforced? and, (5) will the National Maritime Center (NMC) be able to handle the additional work load associated with a two-year physical as required by the STCW? With regard to the last question, we believe that the NMC will, in fact, become overburdened by the new requirement, leading to mariners facing lengthy delays that could affect the validity of their credentials and their continued ability to earn a livelihood.


Course Approval: We are stymied over the changes in the course approval process. Foremost, the supplemental proposal does away with the IMO model course format. One of the instructor qualifications is a course in teaching technologies. For the Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship, the training facility affiliated with the SIU and its members, this is a Train the Trainer course which follows IMO Model 6.09 guidance. When a prospective instructor takes this course, he is given copies of IMO models to study, discuss, and ultimately imitate when preparing his [teaching] assignments. All of the school’s 63 Coast Guard approved courses are written in this format. A change in the format will require all 63 courses to be reformatted and all instructors to be retrained in the new organization and language. Additionally, the school’s Train the Trainer will also need to be rewritten to correspond with the changes. Therefore, we request guidance of the course submission components because the new language introduced leaves much room for interpretation and request clarification on the following points: (Editor’s note: The comments go on to list sevenareas including performance objectives, instructor information and more.)


Further, we would like to point out a number of items which should be included in Section 10.402, as follows: the new NMC mandated course codes; the course scope, objective, prerequisites, textbooks and homework assignments; how grades are determined; test questions, if used; how records are kept; and, instructor’s manual. Specific tabs should be established for those listed items; they should be removed from the teaching syllabus; the course outline; and, instructor resumes.


Onboard Assessments: We are concerned about verifying onboard assessments conducted outside of an approved program, especially when we do not know the assessor. What measures will be in place to verify that student assessments conducted on board were done, done correctly, and documented properly in satisfying prerequisites for mariners who did not come through our approved programs? Our fear is that we might need to reassess students who come to us with onboard assessments that we cannot verify. We recommend that the National Maritime Center qualify assessors for onboard assessment, perhaps with an endorsement on their license or MMC, or by a letter qualifying them as Designated Examiners used in onboard towing assessments. Further, instructors under a course approval who are qualified as assessors should be able to conduct skills assessments onboard a vessel or school ship.


We also notice that onboard assessments for STCW Elementary First Aid are not equal for officers and ratings. We believe that this is an oversight on the part of the Coast Guard and should be addressed. Additionally, we would like to request that instructors who teach Coast Guard-approved courses should be able to self-certify on those courses that they teach when those courses are required for license renewal. For instance, a First Aid/ CPR instructor could self-certify on First Aid/CPR; a Water Survival Instructor could self-certify on Water Survival, etc.


Basic Safety Training – Documentation: We are concerned that the Coast Guard will be unable to track sea service dates that have a bearing on whether a mariner will meet certain qualifications criteria. We feel that implementation of the new regulations will put a huge burden on the National Maritime Center that will require rigorous evaluator training and strict oversight.


Requirements to Qualify for an STCW Endorsement as Able Seafarer-Deck – A Gap between Rating Forming Part of a Navigational Watch (RFPNW) and Able Seafarer- Deck: We believe that there will be a glut of mariners sailing internationally as RFPNW if they are not restricted to lookout duties until they become able seamen-special per the Code of Federal Regulations. While the RFPNW earns sea time and satisfies the requirements of A/II-5 of the Code, the path to able seamanspecial remains balanced if the restriction remains in place. Under the 1995 amended Convention, the SIU-affiliated SHLSS created an eleven-month program from entry to AB-Special to meet the RFPNW/Able Seaman-Special training and assessment requirements. Most of the competencies of A/II-5 are accomplished in this program. This existing program can be modified to allow competencies for Able Seafarer-Deck to be added if the National Maritime Center will continue to grant sea service credit. Therefore, we recommend that the NMC grant sea service credit and actual sea service time to mariners who are enrolled in an approved program and who have completed all other requirements of Able Seafarer- Deck and are otherwise qualified for the endorsement.


Certification of Tankerman: We would like to bring to your attention inconsistencies in the tanker cargo operations provisions, 13.603 and 13.605 and the tankerman PIC requirements in 13.201 and 13.203. The supplemental notice includes no sea service requirement for basic or advanced oil cargo operations as indicated in the STCW. Further, topics 13.603 and 13.605 should be modified to contain specific sea service and training requirements to obtain the advanced tanker STCW endorsements. These should acknowledge and include service aboard barges with appropriate equipment so that service aboard such vessels allows for obtaining the onboard training and assessments to meet Regulation V/1 of the Convention. Finally, it is our belief that a combination of sea service, shipboard experience, and classroom training should be used as a qualification standard for tankermen on modern tank ships and barges.


Engineer Officer Endorsements -- License and STCW Endorsement Pathway: We believe that the proposed changes in the engineering training requirements in the supplemental notice represent a significant improvement over the notice of proposed rulemaking. However, we believe additional changes are needed to ensure an engineering career path that meets the twin goals of safety and practicality. We recommend the following additional changes to further modify the proposed requirements:


 Remove route restrictions from engineering licenses. An engineer seeking to sail on an international or ocean voyage will require an STCW endorsement. We believe that the need to obtain an STCW endorsement creates a route restriction.


 Eliminate the Chief Engineer Limited-Near Coastal license and replace it with a Chief Engineer Limited license limited to vessels less than 1600 GRT, unlimited horsepower. Consistent with the corresponding service requirements for deck licenses, we recommend that the service time required for a Chief Engineer Limited license also be reduced from five years to four years. There are many unlicensed engineers and limited scope licensed engineers who perform duties and have responsibility as engineer aboard vessels sailing internationally. We recommend grandfather provisions upon proof of sea service. We feel that these mariners should be granted a limited-scope license and an STCW endorsement that allows them to continue to serve in the capacity in which they have sailed. This limitation could be restricted to a specific type of vessel, tonnage, and/or equipment the Coast Guard finds appropriate, but it is crucial that these qualified mariners are able to continue sailing.


 Allow direct crossover from lower level to upper level licenses where appropriate, including a new crossover from Chief Engineer Limited to First Assistant Engineer Unlimited.


 Provide a direct crossover from Third Assistant Engineer to DDEUnlimited horsepower and Assistant Engineer Limited to vessels under 1600 GRT, and from Second Assistant Engineer to Chief Engineer Limited to vessels under 1600 GRT.


Tellez then noted that both the SIU and the Paul Hall Center “applaud the Coast Guard for undertaking this challenging and complicated issue and compliment the agency for their work at the International Maritime Organization in amending the STCW Convention. Since the United States is a signatory to the Convention and a prime mover for its acceptance worldwide, we are cognizant that the agency is under a great deal of pressure to fully finalize the implementation of the STCW by its effective date next year. However, we must caution the agency to take its time in this endeavor and get it right so that mariners will not be negatively impacted. Therefore, before publishing a final rule, we ask that stakeholders be given additional time to comment on the proposal.”

 

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