Catching Up on Paperwork

It’s been a slow day today. I’ve been catching up on all kinds of things I’ve been putting off. One big one was filling out the forms for a ‘qualified assessor’ for the US Coast Guard. My boss at San Jacinto Maritime sent the request out a couple of days ago. I was too tired after work at Maersk to get into it. So, completed and sent now. At least I hope it’s finished to their satisfaction.

This qualified assessor thing is just one more example of how the USCG is making it harder every day for people to work in the maritime industry. I swear, if I had any idea that this industry would wind up so strangled with rules and regulations I would’ve listened to my grandmother and been a doctor!

When I first started working on the water, it was so nice. It was perfect for me. I could go to work, anywhere in the world, with decent pay and benefits (including health care as long as I was working at sea). I could dress comfortably, not have to dress in any kind of uniform. I could look like anything I wanted (dress in shorts, flip-flops, and t-shirts). I could talk like I wanted (no such thing as PC back then). I could just do my job and everyone was OK with that.

No more. Those days are long gone.

When I started, you went to the Coast Guard and got a Z-Card. It was good for life. As an ordinary seaman (deck, engine or steward), you didn’t have to do anything to get one. Just fill out the application, pay a few bucks and that was it.

Oh god, I long for those good old days! Now, you can’t even consider going to work on a boat unless you’re willing and able to spend a shitload of money and weeks/months of time! Just take a look at those checklists on the National Maritime Centers website! Not that there’s any real reason for any of this so- called ‘training’. It’s only all about the money!

Yes, that’s it! The USCG, the schools (of course) and the politicians will all insist it’s about ‘safety’, but I’ve yet to see some real proof that any of these extra expenses (all on the backs of the seafarers) has done anything to improve safety. Instead, I believe it has actually caused a decrease in safety, due to driving out more experienced sailors from the industry.

Another reason: since everyone now has to attend “basic safety training’, the employers feel like their new hires have been ‘trained’ in basic safety. They send them out to the ships imagining that they’re prepared to do their jobs with no incidents. They imagine those new hires have learned enough in a week long class to keep them from ever having any accidents at sea. Yeah, riiiiight.

They’ve cut crew sizes down to ridiculously low levels so the old timers don’t have the time to teach the newbies what they really need to know. The basic safety class is a joke! We were all much safer before that class was forced upon us and people became so complacent because of it!

Who in their right minds wants to spend thousands of dollars and weeks of their vacation time taking classes that don’t even teach you anything new? I can’t imagine anyone who would. Yet, that is what we are all saddled with in this industry these days.

Yeah, the schools love it. it’s wonderful for them. They have plenty of money to lobby the politicians to force us all to attend ever increasing training requirements. Meanwhile, us poor sailors have no representation. And how can we argue against ‘safety’?

Do you think I’m the only mariner who feels this way? I can guarantee you that there are a hell of a lot of us out there who are thinking the same way. Just not a lot who are willing to say it online where the companies will see your ‘bad attitude’.

Too bad. I’m going to keep on saying what I think, here on my blog. Online, and whenever the subject comes up. I am not politically correct, I think the whole PC thing is a big reason the country is going to hell and I’m not going to shut up. I’d love to see a real, honest discussion on some of this stuff.

Who in the maritime industry is going to come out and admit that this whole STCW required ‘training’ scheme is nothing but a devious plan to force ‘highly paid’ American sailors out of the work force?

I’ve said so from the very first time I heard of it decades ago. Intended or not, that is the result. McCain and his flunkies calling for the end of the Jones Act will simply put the last nail in the coffin. I’d like to see Trump say to hell with the IMO and the STCW along with all the other things he says he’s getting rid of.

Thought I Was Too Tired

I really feel like spewing out a huge rant right now. I’m so tired I don’t know if it’ll go anywhere, but we’ll see. Fair warning!

I only fell asleep last night about 0130. Had the alarm set for 0330 so I could get up and be sure to have enough time to find my way to safety ‘training’ this morning. They said to be there by 0645, locked out if not there by 0700. I didn’t want to drive all the way up there, just to be locked out. So I made sure I’d get there plenty early.

Anyway. I spent the entire day from 0700-1600 with only a couple of 10 min breaks and a half hour for lunch going over some really basic safety stuff. Things I’ve been in control of for decades. I’ve been the one writing the JSAs, controlling the permits, writing the work procedures, testing the tanks, running the drills, writing the safety manuals, giving the safety training. Things I’ve been in charge of teaching others for decades.

WTF is all that experience completely worthless? I’ve got training certificates out the ring-yang, but not a one of them acceptable. Grrrrr…

These companies take no interest in the fact that their students know more about the subject than their teachers, if you don’t have the specific piece of paper for the specific company, it just doesn’t matter. You’re going to waste more time in ‘training’! (how do you make an ANGRY smiley face?)

Why the hell can’t they standardize their certificates so that you don’t need to get 2 dozen different ones to do the same damn thing! It’s the same offshore. No benefit to anybody except the training centers making a mint off these scams.

It pisses me off to no end to have to repeat this stuff over and over and over and over and over and over and over and especially when I’m not getting paid for it! Even more when I have to waste my money as well as my time. At least they didn’t charge me for it today.

Or maybe it would’ve been better if they had. I would have immediately refused instead of spending all day today up there and tomorrow too. I wouldn’t be furiously steaming all afternoon about their company policies.

This all ties right in with my post from yesterday. The absolutely insane ideas people in the US have come to believe in the last couple of decades. The huge loss of freedom, individual liberty and human rights. The absolute and complete disrespect for us as individual human beings and our innate dignity.

They did spend about a half hour telling us about their company and allowing us to ask questions. That was useful. I learned a few things. Continue reading

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. 🙁

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. 🙁

Sacrifice

Today’s prompt for Just Jot It January is: sacrifice.

3. the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.

For the sake of today’s post, I’ll use this definition, and this quote (some versions add “and lose both”).

I feel extremely isolated in that I agree completely with that quote. I seem to be 1 out of many millions. 🙁 Most people today seem totally willing to sacrifice ALL their freedoms (and mine too), in return for a (false) ‘promise’ of safety.

I can barely stand it; waiting in line for the TSA to grant me permission to travel. It’s all I can do to keep my mouth shut so I don’t lose that RIGHT forever. And the worse thing about it is, listening to the people around me in line making comments like “If you don’t have anything to hide, you don’t have anything to worry about”, or “I don’t care what they do as long as they keep me safe”, or “they’re only doing their jobs’.

Yeah, so were the NAZI’s!

We have given up SO many of our freedoms already, I can’t even begin to count! Just for a start, we have all the violations of the TSA, PATRIOT ACT, NSA spy programs, NDAA, etc. Restrictions of our rights to travel, to earn a living, to defend ourselves, what we can eat and drink and smoke, to choose how to take care of our own health, insane threats of fines and/or imprisonment dictating every single thing we do down to what kind of light bulbs and toilets we can have!

And yes, along with every other right listed in the Bill of Rights, even our right to speak freely has been violated (to all those who inform me how I would be imprisoned for what I say in North Korea or Iraq!).

I am NOT a North Korean or Iraqi! I was NOT brought up idolizing their dictators or ayatollahs as having the god-given right to run my life! I was raised as an American, one who believes whole-hearted in the ideals written down in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Those ideals that millions of Americans before me sacrificed everything up to and including their lives for. Things like individual liberty and freedom.

I can’t believe so many here are just forgetting all that, just throwing it all away, just giving it all up without any fight, without even a feeble protest. What the hell has happened to the American people that they put up with this? All I hear is how ‘times have changed’, ‘we have to go with the flow’, ‘the constitution was written 200 years ago’ and best answer yet- ‘you’re a real nut-job’!

All I have to say to that is: our founding fathers were RIGHT and  principles NEVER change, FREEDOM and individual liberty deserve all those sacrifices made in their name, ‘safety’ and ‘security’ do NOT, even if they were possible to achieve (which they’re not).

Home: Get Ready to Work

I’m home. But only for a short stay. I got home from my FRC (fast rescue craft) class last night. I’m leaving for my course in Leadership (management level) on Sunday. FRC was only 3 days. Leadership is 5 days. All these courses are required (by law) for me to keep my license.

So, I really only have today and tomorrow to catch up on a lot of stuff. I’ve got to go for an eye exam this morning (also required for my license- yearly). I’m going to the dentist tomorrow morning. I need to get a haircut. I need to try and get my computers fixed. I need to see about getting my house exterminated (pretty sure I’ve acquired mice since I’ve been gone- and some sort of LARGER creature that is rampaging around my attic at night).

When I get back from the leadership course (in Baltimore at MITAGS), I’ve got to get my USCG physical done (required yearly so I can keep my license). That entails blood tests I’ve got to get done for my Dr to renew my prescriptions. I’m trying to do that through an online service since it’s MUCH cheaper (and I REFUSE to get sucked in to the Obamacare trap!!)

After I get done with all the medical crap (and “training” crap) I need to do in order to keep my license (without it I am not ALLOWED to work), then I need to try to figure out my tax situation.

Since I am not working for an American company now, they don’t take anything out of my paycheck for taxes. This is the first time I’ve been in this situation. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to pay my own taxes quarterly now. All I know is, I’ve got to get my accountant on it so I don’t get screwed (any more than usual) by the IRS next year.

I’m still in the pool at work so I’m figuring I’ll be due back around Dec 4 (leave Houston Dec 2). That means that in my “month off”, I’ll have had 14 days at home. That’s pretty typical now a days, considering all the required courses and not required (except by the company) “training” we have to take in order to keep working.

How the HELL did it come to this? A free country where most of your time is spent trying to complete government mandates (license to work, TAXES)?  A job at sea once was the ultimate in FREEDOM. You just had to do your job and nothing else mattered. Now, it’s almost the complete opposite.

First of all, if you piss in the jar and it somehow ‘fails’ the test, then you’re OUT, completely and totally. You can not work for ANYONE for a LONG time. You might as well forget about ever working at sea again. What that piss test has to do with your job is totally beyond me, it’s just a bunch of pure BULLSHIT that has tied it to your ability to do your job, but it has become all important. 🙁

After you manage to pass that hurdle, of the company deciding that they OWN your time OFF the job as well as on it, then you can try and pass the ‘physical’ hurdle. Some (very few now) companies are happy enough with the required USCG physical (which gets harder and harder every time there is some sort of incident that gets some news coverage).

Most companies now have their OWN standards. They have their OWN doctors they send you to for things like MRI’s and even psychological tests! Here’s an example of what one recently thought was important that I could do: balance on one foot on a trampoline for a couple of minutes. Another thought I needed to be able to climb up and down the stairs for 20 minutes while carrying a weight of 50 lbs (for a company where it’s not allowed to carry weights of over 35 lbs)! Remember, you can’t set off the BP/pulse monitor either while you’re doing all that!!

Then, once you pass all that and you’re actually allowed to show up on the job, you have to complete a ream of paperwork before you can actually START even the simplest job (JSEA, risk assessment, PROMT card, etc). Oh yeah, you have to be dressed to the hilt in all sorts of ‘safety’ gear: steel-toed boots, hard hat, hearing protection, safety glasses, coveralls, gloves, lanyard for your hard hat.

But NO knife! They are ‘prohibited’ as DANGEROUS. WOW! What twisted logic we have to live by offshore.

So, here I am, a person who chose to go to sea for the FREEDOM it once offered, now suffering from an overdose of ‘safety’ which has completely destroyed the freedom. The same thing is happening on shore. All over the country.

What the HELL has happened to America? A country founded by people from all over the world who once valued their FREEDOM above all else? We’ve turned into a country of whiny-baby scaredy cats, willing and able to sue anybody and anything and blame anybody but ourselves, we need to be ‘protected’ from the big bad world and even ourselves. 🙁

I wonder is it some sort of disease? Something that causes people to lose their common sense? Or is it some kind of intentional mind control, something put out by ‘our leaders’ to get us to stop thinking for ourselves and just do whatever they tell us, no matter how stupid (no knives, airport strip searches, etc).

My guess would be the second one. 😉

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) . 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 🙁

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 🙁

Cargo Ships on Beaches…Really? | gCaptain

Cargo Ships on Beaches…Really? | gCaptain

I always thought it would be so cool to drive one of these big ships up on the beach! I mean really, the whole point of shipping is NOT to run your ship aground.

I do understand that there are some horrendous working conditions there for these people. I also understand that the people who take these jobs are desperate for ANY kind of job to support themselves and their families. I know when you’re desperate, you might not want to be too picky about what you will and won’t put up with. Maybe people might want to figure out what is the reason why they are so desperate in the first place- someone mentioned that there were too many people (comments below article). Yeah, that is the bottom line really. These ship breaking jobs are actually good paying jobs for over there. Yes, I’m sure it could be made safer and would save some lives, but look at what we have done here as far as safety goes- we are regulated to death! I would love to see the comparison statistics on safety between those ship breakers and the ones here (IF we have any left). I don’t think it would really make ALL that much difference. I notice the people working all over Asia on bamboo scaffolding, no shoes, no safety belts, no hard hats, no nothing except the knowledge that if they get hurt, no one is going to help them. They seem to do just as good as we do on their accident rates. All without putting everybody in the “safety” straightjackets like they did here. We can’t do anything anymore without filling out reams of paperwork and dressing up like we’re going to outerspace or something 🙁