TAMUG Job Fair

So, I went to the job fair at Texas A&M Galveston (TAMUG) last Friday. I was hoping to meet recruiters from a few maritime companies. I wanted to get my foot in the door with companies that were actually hiring for shipboard crew.

Sad to say, there were very few companies there that fit the bill. There was a total of 39 tables representing different companies. Included in that total were 2 of the maritime unions (MEBA and the AMO), who I had already been in contact with. There were inland (towing) companies like Kirby, ADM-ARTCO, and G&H Towing. I don’t have a towing endorsement, so can’t work for them. 🙁

There was a large contingent of schools offering graduate studies. Not only TAMUG, but SUNY, Houston Baptist University and UT. The other big group was shoreside: port operations/logistics and engineering. Companies like Ports America, Diversified Port Holdings, GAC, Fracht, Lone Star Maritime, Savage, Orion Group, Sabine Surveyors, Norton Lilly, Oxbow Carbon, Kiewit, Shell, Kinder Morgan, Jaeckel Mund + Brun, Watco, and Biehl. The only one of this group that had any possibility of work for me was the Army Corps of Engineers, but they had much more for engineers than for deckies like me. 🙁

There were a few outliers. Companies that I was a little surprised to see there, wondering what they had to do with maritime. Then I remembered that TAMUG does have more programs than just license track. The Houston Police Department had a table, so did Sherwin Williams (paint), Moody Gardens and the Peace Corps (those last 2 I would be very interested in IF I didn’t have bills to pay).

So. Out of a total of 41 different companies, I talked to 12, after immediately eliminating the others as completely irrelevant to the kind of work I’m looking for. I want to continue working at sea. I want to get back out there- spending my time watching the ocean instead of a river of traffic. I don’t like working in an office, I never did. I hate wasting hours every day driving back and forth. I really still love working offshore and don’t want to give it up.

I was hoping to talk to Subsea 7. They have some really nice vessels and I really enjoy the kind of work they do. I finally got to talk to their representatives (after waiting in line for the crowds to thin out). They told me they would probably be able to offer me a position in Houston, but they had nothing to do with hiring for offshore. That was all done overseas and mostly for foreign crew. 🙁

Stolt Tankers pretty much the same thing to say. Nothing to offer for onboard work. 🙁

I spoke to the reps for both NOAA Officer Corps and NOAA Marine Operations. Sadly, NOAA Officer Corps requires you to pass a military physical. I tried that when I was only 17 and wanted to join the navy. I have’nt been able to lose any weight since then, so surely I won’t pass the physical at 30+ years older.

So, that’s that! The NOAA Marine Operations was really only interested in hiring engineers (tho they held out hope that they may hire a few ABs).

Trident Seafoods had a table. I talked to them since they were hiring for all crew. I have worked on fishing vessels before. I grew up fishing for grouper/snapper in Florida. I was mate on the catcher/processor Ocean Peace in Alaska a few years ago. I was captain on a tuna purse seiner in the South Pacific. But- they were hiring people who were comfortable working out on deck. At this stage in my life, I’m not really up for that any more.

So, my only real possibilities were the 3 shipping companies that were still willing to hire Americans to sail on their ships. Crowley, Keystone Shipping and Ocean Shipholdings. All of them told me the same thing: go online and fill out the application. UGH!

I am so tired of filling out those online applications. No one ever does anything with them. They all ask the same questions. Most of them completely irrelevant to the job you’re applying to. Things like your high school courses and grades. Who cares what you did in high school 30+ years ago? Who cares about your employment history 30+ years ago?

But those online forms won’t let you skip a question. Or answer it with something it doesn’t expect or ‘approve of’. It gets frustrating after filling out dozens of their stupid questions, you’re almost finished and then the whole thing crashes and you have to start all over again. DAMN!

The thing is, all 3 of those companies actually hire through the unions!

I have been an applicant since November 2016 with the AMO. I chose to join that union (over the others) because they have an online job board. You don’t have to sit in the union hall day after day waiting for a job. You can actually do something with yourself while you wait for work. All the other unions still insist that you go and sit in the hall so you can’t do anything useful while you wait.

The AMO has called me twice. Both times with jobs I am not really qualified for. The first time, the job was already gone by the time I saw the notice and called to inquire about it. The second call was on the day I was leaving to go to work.

What I’m finding out about the AMO is that you basically have to find your first job yourself. After that you finally get to use the online job board (and start paying dues). So they’re really not much help until after you’ve already found a job. After that, I guess they’re helpful when you’re looking for work in the future.

So, I am now planning to go to see what I have to do to join either of the other 2 officers unions (MMP, MEBA). I already signed up to the unlicensed union (SIU– they promise they have work). I am would prefer to work as 2nd mate, but don’t know if they really have any work or not.

I am supposed to have 2 days work/week in Houston for the next 3 weeks. It’s not much, but it helps pay the bills. Better than sitting in the union hall and earning $0/day. I guess I’ll wind up sitting there pretty soon if something doesn’t happen with oil.

I keep hoping the price of oil will go up and the offshore oilfield will go back to work. The news looks good one day and then bad again the next.

I really would just like a real job again. At least long enough so I can pay off my bills and then retire the next time this happens! 🙂

Going to Galveston

Tomorrow Texas A & M is having another job fair. I don’t know how much good it will do to go, it seems like I’ve already done this more than once. But I’m going to go again anyway. I’ve printed up a bunch of fresh resumes and hoping there will be someone there who is actually hiring.

I have had a little bit of good news lately. Maersk has courses scheduled for every week this month. That’s more than they’ve had in over a year. I’m scheduled to work for all of them, so I should be able to get at least 7-8 days of work this month. (whoo-hoo!).

I did get a call from a recruiter today. I had already sent my information to the company he is working for tho, so I don’t have much confidence that anything will come of it. My only hope is that they haven’t sorted through their heaps of resumes to reach mine yet (tho it’s already been almost 2 weeks since I sent it in. 🙁

Maybe I’ll get lucky at the job fair tomorrow. Hoping the fact that it’s Friday the 13th doesn’t jinx me.

The Jones Act vs Puerto Rico

I usually try to avoid the news. It only upsets me and there’s not really anything I can do about any of it. It frustrates me and makes me angry.  I’ve been getting my news from the internet, mostly emails and posts from friends.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot about how the Jones Act is supposedly “strangling” Puerto Rico. This is just another instance of ‘yellow journalism’, or as it’s more likely to be called these days “fake news’.

At least the NY Times got it straight about what the Jones Act covers: shipping from one US port to another must be on ships built in America, owned by Americans, and crewed by Americans. Yes, it is a cabotage law, and protectionist. But they’re far off target on the rest of what they had to say about it.

Yes, our ships do cost more. There are reasons for that. Mostly because our costs are generally higher in the USA than in many of the countries around the world which we compete with for shipping.

WHY are those costs so much higher? Regulations for one. Why do so many owners register with “flags of convenience” like Liberia, Panama, Marshall Islands, etc? I’ll tell you why- because they can get away with running their ships a hell of a lot cheaper!

If that means treating their crew like dogs, so be it. If that means running an old rust bucket until it breaks apart, so be it. If that means ‘cheating’ on the pollution regulations in order to evade paying for proper disposal, so be it.

Do you think the price of anything is the same in China as it is here? How about India?

Fact is, crew costs (which shippers insist is their highest expense) is negligible if you can use crew from any of a number of ‘third world’ countries. I see advertisements every day offering jobs for $200/day for unlimited ships officers. Less than peanuts to any American officer, but I notice dozens of foreigners begging for every one of those jobs. 🙁

Who could afford to work at a job like that here, when it costs us hundreds of dollars a year just to keep our documents current? Not to mention what it costs to get a mariners credential in the first place (tens of thousands if you’re wondering). And remember, most other countries subsidize their seafarers, the US does nothing to help us at all. Reagan even took away our promised health benefits.

Our wages are higher across the board, because our cost of living in America necessitates that. The people who work in our shipyards have to be able to survive here. Do you think our naval architects, welders, painters, engineers, machinists, electricians, etc should all work for $20/day like they do in many of the countries our ships compete with?

Mr. Chen, a qualified shipbuilding engineer, said he earned 8,000 yuan a month—around $1,165 today, and three times as much as China’s migrant workers earn on average—during the golden years.

That quote was from an “Investors Alert” article about how the Chinese shipyards are hurting due to the global slump in shipping. I’m sure Mr Chen is making even less money now (the $1,165 per month comes out to a little more than $7/hour on a 40 hour week). How many of our professional engineers would work for $7/hour? Or should even be asked to??? 

I hope you’ll realize that we would have a total of 0 people to work in our shipyards to build our ships OR on our vessels to deliver the goods to Puerto Rico or anywhere else covered by the Jones Act (coastal US shipping- one US port to another). We would have about 0 American ships left after a few years, once all of our old ones gave out.

They would all be replaced by cheaper foreign ships, with cheaper foreign crews.

Yep, we could all save a few more pennies at Walmart, but is it really worth it?

The Jones Act was intended to ensure that we would always have a fleet. A certain amount of American ships. Ships we could depend on in any circumstance.

It was intended to ensure that we would always have the capacity to build the specialized military ships so that we could defend ourselves without having to depend on somebody else’s fleet. It was intended to ensure that we would always have trained shipyard workers to build those ships and crews to sail them.

Do you realize that during the Gulf War we could barely supply the troops? Plenty of our ‘allies’ refused to allow us to use their ships. We were also very, very short on people to crew up the vessels we did have. They were calling out old men from retirement (and waiving their need for current documents).

The NY Times article makes light of the fact that there are no more U-boats cruising our shorelines, like that’s the only threat we have to worry about. They pretend the Jones Act is obsolete because we aren’t at war.

Anybody remember the “War on Terror” we have supposedly been fighting since at least 9-11??? The reason we’ve had to give up our rights to freedom and privacy because there might be terrorists lurking around every corner?

Every American mariner is required to take security training, we are required to pass a background test (we must get a TWIC), we must swear an oath…

I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will faithfully and honestly, according to my best skill and judgment, and without concealment and reservation, perform all the duties required of me by the laws of the United States. I will faithfully and honestly carry out the lawful orders of my superior officers aboard a vessel.

Do you really want to eliminate the Jones Act and all the good it does? To save a few cents (maybe)?

Puerto Rico is suffering in the wake of Hurricane Maria, but it has nothing to do with the Jones Act! There are hundreds of thousands of supplies stacked up in the ports. Items delivered by both US and foreign ships. None of them had any trouble delivering their cargo because of the Jones Act.

The problem on Puerto Rico has to do with the infrastructure on the island, NOT getting supplies to the island. Don’t throw out the Jones Act and all the behind the scenes good it does for everyone in this country, just because a few people (and the NY Times) don’t understand it.

Change of Plans

Things are always up in the air with me lately. I was supposed to come out here for 6 weeks as DPO. I came out as DPO and after a few days, I was informed that I was really supposed to be MSL (marine section leader). Basically MSL is the same thing as a chief mate.

Whoo-hooo! I got promoted. But I didn’t want to be. I probably would have refused to take the job in the first place if they had told me the truth about what they wanted.

The company who hired me and the client who hired them both refuse to pay me as MSL tho I have been doing the job now for a couple of weeks (since last crew change). So. I am leaving.

How many people do you think are happy to do the work of one job and get paid a much lower rate for another job? I think only very young people trying to break in, to prove themselves. Or really super desperate people who have given up their pride and principles and have nothing at all to live on. We all do a lot of things we may not like to when it comes down to survival. Thank goodness I have not got to that point yet this time around.

I’ve worked too damn hard, for too damned long in order to earn my license. I don’t like the fact that they seem to think it’s worthless here.

I will go home after only 4 weeks of work. Very disappointed with the whole operation.

Oh well, it’ll be nice to be home for a while. I just hope it’s not such a long while! I need to find another job asap!

I’m hoping hurricane Harvey didn’t do much damage to my property. It would be nice to be able to stash some of this paycheck (just in case).

Thorny

Here’s my response to the Daily Posts’ prompt: thorny.

😉

Actually, I have been dealing with a thorny situation, as in these 2 meanings of the word…

4. painful; vexatious:a thorny predicament.

5. full of difficulties, complexities, or controversial points:

a thorny question.
 As all my long term peeps know by now, I’ve been stuggling to find work since I was laid off by Ocean Rig in September 2015. Due to the low price of oil, their contracts had been cancelled and so they just laid off their crews en mass. I’m not even elgible for unemployment since they are not a US company. Jeez, after more than 30 years of paying into it, I can’t get any help when I need it!
Since Ocean Rig laid me off, I’ve spent enourmous amounts of time and energy looking for work. Preferrably on a boat of some sort. Any kind of boat. Any kind of work. I’ve worked my way up from deckhand to unlimited master and was applying for anything from galley hand (dishwasher and potato peeler) to captain.
Since September of 2015, I have had a total of 1 month as DPO in November 2015. One month as AB in August 2016. One month as DPO in May this year, another month as mate, and then this hitch that I’m on right now.
So yeah, I’ve been pretty desperate to find work. I was happy to get this job for 6 weeks. Yesterday was hump day- halfway. I signed on as DPO (dynamic positioning operator) 3 weeks ago. The vessel is a drilling rig. We have been anchored just South of the MIssissippi Delta (along with a fleet of other laid up rigs), since I got here.
There was some talk of a contract when I came out, but that hope seems to have faded (tho you never know- we could get called to go to work tomorrow).
The problem is this: I was hired to be a DPO. I am being paid as a DPO. Onboard the ship, I have been performing the duties of a chief mate (MSL- marine section leader). There is a big step up in duties and responsibilities (tho the DPOs have plenty as it is).
The company will not pay me as a MSL, they say they only want a DPO. That is not really the way it works on board any vessel. You have a Captain(Master), and then you have a chief mate who is second in command. There are legal ramifications. You really can’t just say you won’t do the job. I guess the people in the office don’t understand how things work in the maritime world (tho they damn sure should!).
I am a licensed mariner. I worked hard as hell for a lot of years to earn that license. I don’t think it’s right for a company to take advantage of someones desire for a job to use them for one thing (their license) and pay them for something less. Even worse is to hire them as one thing with no mention of the other until it’s too late. You can’t just walk out the door! We’re 20+ miles offshore, it’s a long way to swim. 🙁
So, the thorny problem: I really need the work. I’m almost 2 years behind on my bills/plans for my life. I also don’t want to allow someone to use the license I worked so hard for. The deal is, they want a licensed officer on their vessel, they have to pay for one. That’s just the way it works. Or, it should be.
There are way too many companies out there today taking advantage of financially desperate mariners. It’s sad.
I want to work. I need to work. But, I also need to be able to hold my head up high and stick to my principles.
What would you do?
PS- Sorry about the awful way this post runs together, I can’t figure out how to get it to make paragraphs again! Any clues??

Another Day on the SLou

I’m still here. I haven’t been able to keep up with the blogging since last weeks crew change. Pretty much the entire crew changed out. The only ones left were me, the medic, the crane operator and most of the galley crew (3 guys). There are only 20 of us total on here now. Usually, there are about 200.

We have a new captain. I was made MSL (marine section leader), which is basically the oilfield way of saying Chief Mate. The problem with that is that I was sent out here to be a DPO, with a contract and pay as a DPO. There is a whole ‘nother level of responsibilty that I have now, that I didn’t plan on and don’t really want. Especially if I’m not going to be paid for it.

It’s hard trying to keep any vessel in shape with a minimal crew. This is not just any vessel. I would say it is fairly unique. I have been here for about 3 weeks now and I’m still getting lost when I go below decks! It’s a lot more complex than a ‘regular ship’.

They have 4 engine rooms (2 engines each), with switchboard rooms for each engine room. They have separate pump rooms for the drillers, ballast, drains, etc. We have 4 separate thruster rooms (2 thrusters each). They are all the way down, practically at the bottom of the ship. There is another level below with just ballast tanks and pumps.

I was down there this afternoon, wandering around, checking some items for the PM’s (preventive maintenance) that still needs to get done. The ship is round, so you go around in circles to check each thruster room. I did fine with that. The problem was when I wanted to go back up to the main deck. The thrusters are on the 3.5m level. The engine rooms are on the 28.5, 32.5 level (up from 0). The cargo elevator that usually runs to access those spaces is broken.

I found out that you can’t easily get out of the thruster rooms without climbing up a 20′ vertical ladder with a hatch to open on top. I thought about trying it, but my arms and upper body strength is not something I feel too confident about.

We did PM’s on the HiPAP (high precision acoustic positioning) transducer poles this morning. My bosun (on here as roustabout) had a heck of a hard time climbing out of that space. It is a loooooong way down! Vertical ladders are tough enough even you are in good physical shape.

My DPO and roustabout were both worn out after 3 times up and down those ladders. Both of them are young and look to be in pretty good shape. I figure the valves are on the 0 elevation level, so it’s about 75 ft straight up. My arms would be jelly!

I tried 2 different ways to get out of different thruster rooms before I finally wound up back where I came down. I wasn’t going to try opening a hatch while standing at the top of a vertical ladder and nobody around to help. I went back up that way. I was pretty pooped by that time.

I’ll update this later with pictures. I’ve been having a hard time with my computer getting anything done online, so it might take a little while. Hang in there. 😉

It’s A Small World

It always surprises me when I come out to work how really connected this community is. The seafaring community that is. The people who spend their lives working far from home, out on the waters of the world.

I almost always know at least one person on every ship I join. If I don’t know someone personally, I know people they know. 🙂

I am working on a rig right now on the semi submersible drilling rig “Sevan Louisiana”,  where the Captain/OIM is a good friend of a good friend of mine. He used to work on the same boat I used to work on at Oceaneering, just a little while before I started there. We know a lot of the same people there.

One of the other DPOs used to work on a rig I did some temp work on a few years ago. He remembers me from when I was there. The crane operator was also on that rig.

The galley crew used to work with me on the HP-1 a while back. I remember how they spoiled me with little towel animals on my bunk every day. They’re great bunch of guys (and good cooks). 🙂

I’ve been here almost 2 weeks and it looks like just about everybody but me is fixin’ to go home soon. The rig is almost deserted anyway, we’re staffed with the bare minimum manning (warm stacked). We won’t get more crew til we hear if we’re going to get some work.

Thursday is crew change day and I’ll have a whole new crew to work with. I hope they turn out to be as easy to work with as this one.  I’ve still got another 4 weeks to go!