Monday, June 7, 2010

Monday Morning Mariner: Is STCW un-American?

Is STCW un-American? After the Coast Guard published its intent last November to bring license and documentation requirements for US mariners more into line with the international standards set by the Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping Convention and Code, reaction among American commercial mariners was mixed. Some approved of the new standards and said the change was overdue. But many felt the Coast Guard was ignoring the special needs and history of American mariners by imposing foreign standards on us. Captain Anchor Chain described the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to me as “a bunch of busy-body retired British mariners telling other people how to run their lives.” Captain Dip Correction called it an attempt to impose a European-style social class system on the merchant marine of a classless American society, an attitude Captain Pillager summed up when he called the new regulations “the end of the hawespipe.”

But whatever the effects of the new regulations (I’ll discuss them in more detail in the next couple Monday Morning Mariner posts), the US is not a helpless victim in the development of STCW. In fact, the US had a leading role in developing the current manning and certification regulations.

Prior to 1995, STCW didn’t even address the idea of human error in maritime casualties; the original 1978 convention was more focused on structural and equipment requirements. The tanker Aegean Sea was in compliance with all these requirements when it went aground off the coast of Spain in December 1992, spilling more than 70,000 gallons of oil. Subsequent investigation showed that human error was a major factor in the grounding and indeed in many maritime incidents. It was the US that first proposed to other IMO members that STCW ’78 be reviewed with an eye to taking human error – and avoiding it – into account.

The new regulations – known as STCW ’95 – resulting from the US proposal had several effects on mariners worldwide, and on American mariners in particular, at least for those that might ever want to sail outside the US. Where previously most licenses and merchant mariners documents could be had simply by accruing enough sea time and passing a Coast Guard exam, STCW required hands-on training with actual equipment to earn certification, a boon to maritime training schools and a major expense for mariners and their employers.

The latest round of changes to US regulations would bring not just certifications but the license structure itself into compliance with STCW. The US Constitution gives treaties the force of US law, and the IMO (and thus it’s regulations) is an arm of the United Nations, to which the US is bound by treaty. The STCW Convention also requires participating nations to enforce the provisions of the code on all vessels in their ports, whether that vessel hails from a participating nation or not. Thus, US mariners run the risk of not having their credentials, however hard-earned, not recognized by the “port state authorities” of other nations.

Next week: the proposed changes to the deck license structure. For the text of the Proposed Rulemaking, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Unamerican sounds like such a good thing to be. I don't see why it is seen by some as unpatriotic. There is no consensus on what it means to be American anyway.