A Speck in the Sea

I’ve been reading some good books lately. A Speck in the Sea by lobstermen John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski is one of them.

Subtitled “A story of survival and rescue”, it tells the story of how John fell overboard late one night and the subsequent search and rescue efforts.

I’ve always loved reading stories of disasters and survival. I like to see how people react to unusual circumstances and imagine what I might do if something happened to me. I read about nuclear wars and EMP attacks, alien invasions, the zombie apocalypse, global pandemics, environmental destruction and the more likely (for me personally) disaster at sea stories.

A Speck in the Sea is one of those.

As the Anna Mary motored out from Montauk late one night, John stood watch while his parters slept below. Instead of waking them up as planned, he decided to let them sleep a little longer and started to prepare for the fishing grounds instead.

One small ‘oops’ and he was over the side. In the middle of the night. In the North Atlantic. With nothing but the clothes on his back. With no one aware of his situation.

The book does a great job of telling the story from both sides: John tells what he’s thinking and doing while he’s bobbing around in the cold dark ocean. Anthony and the Coast Guard tell us what’s going on as they discover John’s missing and their reaction. The entire community gets involved. Yes, they would. The seafaring communities are still like that.

As a fisherman myself, with a brother who’s still trying to make a living out there, I could immediately relate. I admire John’s resourcefulness and will to survive. I’m not so sure I would react like he did. I have a much more pessimistic outlook on life. Still, it’s nice to know that it IS possible to survive.

If you’re into sea stories, or in how to survive the unexpected, you might like this book. I recommend it. πŸ™‚

USCG

I’ll be busy today. I’m heading up to Houston this morning to renew my RADAR certification, then to turn in my application at the US Coast Guard (USCG). I heard about a job lead from a friend yesterday, so I plan to stop by their office and try again (I’ve already sent them an email about the job).

I’m getting more than a little frustrated about the work situation. Having to deal with the USCG so often is getting extremely aggravating. I do not believe that anyone should be forced to beg permission from their government in order to earn a living. No, no one, ever, for ANY job, for ANY reason. Period!

Especially in America which is supposed to be a free country. Which was specifically formed in order to limit the government. Which was not supposed to have any power to do anything like that!

It was never so insane as it has become lately. The USCG has bowed down to the ‘international community’ and has forced US mariners to submit to the regulations of the STCW (standards of training, certification and watch keeping) put out by the IMO (international maritime organization).

Most of the STCW regulations are just plain stupid (IMHO). They are there for absolutely no purpose but to make the regulators feel like they have done something useful, and of course to make money for the ‘training’ operations at the expense of the mariners who basically have no opportunity to say anything about it.

They sell this all by insisting it has something to do with ‘safety’. I don’t believe it does, but even if it did, it certainly does not make up for all the extra BS they put us through for it. SO much time, money and aggravation to each and every mariner!

How can anyone look at our licensing scheme in the past and what we have to deal with now and say it makes any sense? It does not. In any way.

When I started going to sea (seriously) in 1978, I got a mariners document that was good for life. Yes, the officers had to renew every 5 years, but they only had to apply and renew RADAR. That’s it!

Now, all documents must be renewed every 5 years and there is an absolutely ridiculous amount of ‘training’ that needs to be renewed every 5 years as well. That all needs to be done at USCG approved ‘training’ centers. That is all very time consuming and expensive.

Are we any better sailors for it? I can guarantee you the answer to that is NO! Try to compare an AB from 100 years ago, the ones on the windjammers, to an AB today. There is just no comparison. The same goes for the officers.

Those guys had NO formal training and NO licensing either (until they, themselves insisted on it- as usual, in order to keep out the competition).

The improvements in safety since then had to do with improvements in the technology, NOT in the training or licensing of the crew. Any loss of safety has more to do with economics than anything else. Meaning companies cutting down on crew size, maintenance and tight scheduling.

Of course, as usual, the companies will blame anything and everything on the crew. It is always ‘human error’ that is at fault. Never their fault for pushing the ships and crews beyond what would be prudent (or safe).

They talk safety til it’s coming out your ears, but when it starts costing them a few bucks, that all goes right out the window! I’ve seen very few companies (in over 40 years at sea) that actually follow through. I can’t count the times I’ve been told “if you won’t do it we’ll just find someone who will”. It’s certainly not just happening to me!

How many mariners are able to walk off the job when that situation comes up? Not many.

Until that changes, all the ‘training’ in the world is not going to help anything much.

Just put more and more of us out of work, unable to pay for the ‘training’ we need in order to even try to find a job.

More and more companies are insisting on more and more ‘training’, more certificates- before they’ll even consider talking to you. For instance, I’ve been trying to work worldwide. The European companies want you to have something called BOSIET, which is exactly the same thing as what employers here insist on called BST + HUET.

The only difference is about an hours worth of ‘training’ on something called a ‘re-breather’. There is no ‘gap-closing’ course. So, I can not apply for any of those jobs unless I waste another entire week and spend a few thousand dollars to take the BOSIET course!

I’ve been out of work since last September. I can’t afford to take any more classes. Luckily, I’ve already taken the latest newly required classes (Leadership and Management and ECDIS). I only have to renew my RADAR certification, which I plan to do today.

Why do we have to renew this stuff (or even take a course ashore in the first place)? There really is no reason other than to ensure a fine flow of mariners to the training centers. These classes are all about things we either do every day (RADAR, BST), or won’t make any difference to anything anyway (leadership).

No one ever seems to take into account the mariners. The people who are the actual experts on the subject at hand. The people who’ve actually been forced into complying with these new requirements. It’s all done in our name, but we’re never asked our opinions, we never have anything to say about any of it!

We have all taken these jobs for certain reasons. One of the biggest reasons is for the time off. We spend weeks, months, more (some spend years), at sea. Working 24/7 without a break. We hardly even get shore leave any more. We are supposed to be able to come home and take a well deserved break!

Not any more. That time off has been whittled away, more and more, by so called ‘training’. Training that is supposed to be so all-fired important that it’s worth taking up weeks or months of our well earned and deserved time off (without any compensation for the loss). But that training is the exact same thing we do onboard!

If it’s so damned important, why can’t the companies spend the money to ensure their people are trained? Especially when so many of them absolutely refuse to accept anyone else’s ‘training’ even when it’s exactly the same (except for the name)! Most of it is stuff anyone who’s spent even a week working offshore will know by heart!

I keep wondering what’s going to happen when shipping picks up again? There are so many of us out of work. Hundred of thousands around the world, and that’s just for the oilfield, not even counting deep sea shipping! How many can afford to take the necessary training to be ABLE to go back to work when the jobs start opening up again?

We need to have 150 days on a vessel in the last 5 years. We ALSO now need to re-take quite a few courses in a certain time frame before our papers need to be renewed (mostly a year). How many jobs ashore will give you the time off or pay you enough so that you can renew those classes? I can tell you right now the answer to that question- NONE!

IMHO, the STCW is about nothing more than helping the shipowners replace “expensive” American/European/Australian mariners with cheaper sailors from places like the Philippines. They’re now able to say, “they all have the exact same training” (according to the STCW), so why not hire an entire crew of Philippinos for the price of 1 American? That is exactly what they have been doing since the STCW came into force. πŸ™

I hate to think I’m going to be forced to retire. I still love working at sea. But I can see the end coming and it’s not pretty for American mariners. πŸ™

Drills Today

Wondering if we’ll have fire and boat drills today?
Is it worth trying to go to sleep? Or would it be better to try to stay awake so that you can get some good rest after it’s all over?

Weekly (at minimum) drills are a necessity on most vessels, but boy do they get old fast.

It’s already so hard to get enough sleep out here and then we have to do these drills every week (as well as safety meetings). It’s really amazing but almost every time, we’ll have at least 1 person who doesn’t know where their muster station is, how to get there, or what they’re supposed to do when they do get there.

It’s not like that on ships that have a crew full of professional mariners. They are trained and will almost always do the right thing, even go and check out their gear when they come aboard.

On vessels that have ‘crew’ other than mariners (construction, cruise, fishing, drilling, etc), most of these people are NOT mariners and don’t come from a seafaring background. Even though the STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) mandates that every mariner has to take a basic safety course before going offshore, I’ve noticed that all these other people do NOT have to take that course (or others).

THEY are the people who actually NEED that course (at a bare minimum), but of course the IMO and others who make the rules really have NO idea what they are doing when they come up with this stuff.

I’m falling asleep whether I want to or not. Here’s hoping the drills go fast today.

Capt Jills Kvetching

OK, fair warning here, I’m going to be bitching (a bit) in this post…

This week I’m in Houston re-taking the Basic Safety Training (BST) course. This is a class that the USCG (Coast Guard) started requiring all mariners to take back when they were trying to get the US in compliance with STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) around the turn of the century (STCW 95 went into full effect in the US Feb 2, 2002).

BST is a very basic course that is supposed to teach you what you should know before you can go offshore. Things you would know if you’d ever spent more than a couple of days (working) out there. Things like ‘what is a station bill? what is a muster station? what are the alarm signals? what do you do if someone falls overboard?, where can you find a lifejacket? how do you use a fire extinguisher? etc.

STCW is an international standard and the USCG is in charge of making sure all US mariners comply.

For once, the USCG actually made a rule that sort of made sense. They decided that if you were still sailing during the 5 years before you had to renew your credentials, (still working offshore where you were required to do safety training and drills every week), then you wouldn’t be required to spend another week of your supposed time off and a few hundred dollars (minimum) to ‘learn’ how to do such things as put on a life jacket or about the different types of fires.

It’s really pretty sad to have to require someone who’s been going to sea for 20 years (or even ONE year) to spend a week of their time off in this kind of class.

At this point, the USCG still does not require us to take the BST class more than once. They have caved in to the IMO and WILL be forcing us all to re-take the BST refresher course starting in 2017 (but they’re not yet). So far as I know, there are no approved ‘refresher’ courses since this is a fairly new ruling. Hopefully, the refresher course will only cover what we don’t do every week on board the ships. Things we CAN’T do (supposedly) out there like jump in the pool and/or put out real fires.

Maybe they’ll be sensible and just let us do a one day course on only those couple of things (I can hope, can’t I). πŸ˜‰

In the meantime, certain companies don’t really care what the rules say. They insist that no one could possibly be ‘safe’ unless and until Β they finish going to training for THEM.

I see it more and more often in the Gulf of Mexico. The drilling companies (clients) are especially bad about it. Instead of accepting Safegulf or Rigpass, (both of which cover the same very basic materials and are pretty much the same as the BST but more for the rigs vs the boats), each company wants you to go to THEIR training before you go offshore (even tho it’s all pretty much the same material).

Some of the trainers won’t even give you any proof that you attended the class! They don’t want you to be able to go to another company and avoid having to take it again (so they will get paid again for teaching you the same stuff they just taught you 2 months ago)!!

I have no idea why. Well, yes I do, but nobody likes to admit it. All the STCW courses cover the same material. They HAVE to. The USCG requires certain things to be taught. They require that we spend so much time on each subject. There is very little leeway in how these courses are taught.

The purpose of the STCW was to ensure that everybody in the entire world has the EXACT SAME TRAINING. Every country that is approved (on the white list) has basically the same courses teaching the same things. That is so that we can all be certain that every seafarer from every country will have at least the same basic minimum knowledge base.

Now, it seems the intent of the STCW is being subverted. I am hearing that some countries will not accept training from other countries. The sailors have to go and spend all that time and money taking the classes again for the country they want to work in! In fact, the US is one of those countries! (I am simplifying it a little here).

The USCG will not accept a course if I go to another country to take it. For example, if I went to take Basic Safety Training in Greece, they would not accept it. If someone from the UK were to come here and try to get a mariners document, they would have to re-take the BST course here. The USCG is supposedly in the process of changing the rules (again) but in the meantime, its a real pain in the ass for a lot of sailors around the world!

I’m actually lucky this time. I am starting a new job and the company is sending me to the ‘training’ this time. I have pretty much always had to spend the time and money out of my own pocket for all the other times I’ve had to do this.

I spent over $50,000 (!!!!!) re-taking classes I already took in order to get my chief mates license between 2002-2008!

Basically, I am just sick and tired of having to take the same classes over and over again. There’s very rarely even anything new covered in them. The very few things that have changed are things we could have got out of a safety alert or an email. But nooooooo, we have to go spend a week and a few hundred bucks (minimum) to sit through all the rest of the stuff that has NOT changed.

I think if I have to do it again at this point, that will be the last straw. I would just have to say the hell with it and give up sailing altogether. πŸ™

And they wonder why it’s so hard to recruit mariners?

It’s very sad that this is what it’s coming to. People say to me, “how can you be against “safety””? OK, let’s get this straight! I am NOT against safety!! I AM against these people (companies and governments) making up rules and checklists and “training” to COVER THEIR ASSES instead of doing the RIGHT thing!

IMHO, the real purpose of all these things is so they can send us to a class for a few days and then send us offshore and if we ever get hurt they can say “it’s not OUR fault, we sent them to TRAINING, they should have known better”. In other words, it’s all about CYA.

Of course, no one will actually ADMIT that.

Instead of actually giving a new person the time to learn the job PROPERLY on the job, with the people they will be working with who know the specifics, they send a new person off for a few days in a classroom.

OK, that’s better than nothing, I admit it, but it’s Β NOT better than the way they used to learn things BEFORE these rules were put into effect!

We used to take a new person offshore and train them on the job. We would make sure to watch over them and ‘mentor’ them until we were all sure that they knew how to handle themselves. There were enough people out there for that system to work very well. Now that the companies have cut the crew size down to the bare minimum (or less, in many cases), no one really has the time or energy to watch over a new person like that.

So, now we have to trust that they know everything they need to know when they show up on board. After all, they’ve been “trained” and there is no way anybody can just ‘watch and learn’ anymore. Everybody out there now is going to be expected to pull their weight.

Personally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that there were MORE accidents and injuries since the start of all this STCW and company “training”. (Don’t even get me started on the paperwork component of all this: JSAs, tool box talks, etc, etc, etc). So far, I have not seen any kind of apples to apples comparison. I’m not sure anybody wants to see that done. It might show the companies that all their talk about safety is just that- TALK!

They might just have to come up with something a little more effective at making things safer out there, like maybe putting a few more people back on board the vessels? Or maybe cutting down on all the extra workload each person has had to shoulder since they cut out over half the crew years ago? Or maybe actually letting a person get some rest before they go to work on crew change day instead of putting them straight to work after they’ve just been up for 24+ hours traveling! OMG, they would have to spend a few bucks on a hotel room!!!

Nawwww, that would never happen, they might just have to spend a few more dollars on those crew members then they do on all their ‘safety’ programs. Not ever gonna happen. πŸ™

Is it Safer to Work Offshore in 2013?

Is it Safer to Work Offshore in 2013?.

Well, I don’t really know. I would like to see some statistics on how it compares to back in say the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. Personally, I think its probably a LITTLE better. The companies I’ve been working with are constantly harping on safety. They go on and on til its coming out our ears. But I still hear of people doing really stupid things. Like that fire on the platform back in November last year , due to improper welding operations (http://www.blackelkenergy.com/news/67-explosion-and-fire-on-gulf-platform-occurred-during-welding-contractors-failed-to-follow-standard-safety-practices.html)Β . I mean, jeeze…

What the hell is it going to take?? I get sick and tired of being treated like a moron when I go to work. The company has to tell me how to get dressed in the morning? REALLY???

I’ve only been working offshore (professionally) since 1977! Having to re-take classes like BST (Basic Safety Training) or Rigpass really gets old. I mean, who forgets how to put on a life jacket??? What’s new in shipboard fire fighting? We have the same classes of fires we’ve always had (except they now label a galley grease fire as “K” for kitchen I guess- trying to make it SEEM like there’s actually something new). We fight them the same way.

I think the way to make things safer offshore is to concentrate on creating a culture of personal responsibility!!! Get people to understand that they can do what they’re going to do but THEY are responsible for their actions. They’ll pay attention if they know THEY are going to pay the price if anything goes wrong.

The fact is that we have all sorts of programs out here that SEEM to encourage safety. Instead, they take the ability to THINK about and then CHOOSE their actions away from people. Take away options from people and you take with it their responsibility. You can only BLAME them then, since you’ve taken away any REAL choices.

It seems to me these companies love to send people to these classes so they can tell the world, “it’s not OUR fault those people got hurt. After all, we sent them to training. They should have known how to do the job properly without getting hurt.” Yeah, like a day long class is really going to teach someone ALL they need to know to work safely out here. I don’t think so!

I’m NOT saying we need to go to any more classes!!! What I AM saying is that once a person goes through those very basic classes, they have only the bare minimum of knowledge. We can and should use the time spent in our weekly drills and safety meetings to train people PAST that bare minimum!

Those of us out here with some experience need to take into consideration that SOME of the people we’re working with are almost totally ignorant! From my perspective, it seems like a lot of the incidents are happening with relatively new people. We need to concentrate our efforts on training THOSE people! We need to keep a good eye on them. We need to take the time to really MENTOR them. We need to be generous with our time and our knowledge and not keep it to ourselves in fear of losing our jobs to the newbies…

It would help a LOT if we were not constantly having the crew size cut and cut and cut some more! OK, this below is referring to shipping and not so much drilling since I don’t know too much about drilling yet (but its probably still relevant)…

A typical ship used to carry a crew of 45-50 men. Now they sail with half that (and LOTS more work to do)! Some COIs (Certificate Of Inspection) will allow only 17 man crew (or less). This is for a 1000 ft long tanker!!! ATBs (tug/barge combination) which can run up to 600-700+ feet long, can be run with less than 10!!!

Check out the REAL results of the investigation into the Exxon Valdez incident. You’ll find that it was actually caused by the fact that the entire crew was exhausted and had NOTHING to do with the Captain at all. He could have been totally sober or drunk as a skunk and it wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference.

They passed the 12 hour rule after the Valdez spill to remedy that. There are work hour restrictions in US law and in the STCW. So it applies to pretty much ALL shipping worldwide. That does include all the larger oilfield support vessels. I don’t know how the drilling industry has escaped notice on this but I don’t know of anything similar that they have to abide by (I might just be uninformed on this point- any drillers to comment?).

Ask any sailor around the world how well they follow that rule. I can almost guarantee you they’re being ‘forced’ by their company policies to break it constantly. Of course, company will never admit it, will blame it on the crew if it ever comes up, and will deny they ever had any idea it was happening πŸ™

Being tired is one of the leading causes of accidents. I would think that would be one very easy solution to vastly improve safety. But of course, it would cost some extra money to hire a few extra hands. Is that gonna happen any time soon???

Safety first??? I don’t think so πŸ™

Falado of Rhodes Sunk Yesterday in the Vicinity of Iceland

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I found this on a discussion in the traditional sail professionals group on www.linkedin.com. Β I am sad to see yet another tall ship go down. I love these old ships and I’m sorry to see the level of seamanship is nowhere near the traditional skill levels.

I was lucky enough to start out under sail-training with Captain Jespersen of Denmark who was a real traditional sailor. He was sail-training master of the Danish ship Danmark. He was a fantastic teacher. I’ll never forget the time I was sailing on the Ariadne (3- masted schooner- German flag) and the Phoenix (brigantine- Irish flag) as a student with the Oceanics School. I spent a total of about 8 months on those ships and those lessons have sunk into my bones. The lessons I learned then have come in handy many times over the years. Traditional sail takes a long time under “mentors” (or a good bosun!) to learn it properly. I don’t see people getting trained in any useful way today.

Yeah, the companies I work for send you to USCG/IMO (STCW) required BST (Basic Safety Training) now. You MUST go to this class now before you can go to sea on anything other than inland or under 100 GT. IMHO, that class is a total joke. They send you there and then you’re on your own. After all, you’ve been “trained” now. You already know everything you need to know. Yeah, riiiighht.