With former U.S. Maritime Administrator David Matsuda heading for the door, is there a new day dawning for shortsea shipping in the United States? That light in the East might be the dawn of a new day for the U.S. maritime industry or it might be the final cataclysmic flash in the pan for this beleaguered industry.
It was intimated by a U.S. Maritime Administration official not long ago that the lack of emphasis on the maritime industry and shortsea shipping originated not with the U.S. Maritime Administrator, nor with the Secretary of Transportation, but at the highest levels of the Obama administration. As the House of Representatives convenes a special committee on intermodal transportation, perhaps there is an opportunity to finally move the America’s Marine Highway program forward.
Maritime Executive’s Tony Munoz recently opined that the U.S. could learn from the EU’s short sea policies. The success of the European model in regards to job creation, economic value and environmental impact (or lack thereof) is enviable. An interesting graphic on some of the successes of the EU Marco Polo Project here.
As gCaptain’s John Konrad put it, “…no one in shipping has ignored the problem. What they have done is wasted millions on spreadsheets and PowerPoints to convince each other how much this will benefit shipping……our time needs to be spent outside official channels. Don’t write your congressmen about short sea shipping write Fox News about how frustrated you are sitting in I-95 traffic, and get your wife to write about how the rust on your bridge scares the s$%^ out of her every time she crosses it with the kids.”
These guys have some very valid points. Perhaps there IS hope for America’s Marine Highway and the U.S. Merchant Marine…..if there is a Maritime Administrator from the maritime industry,
More information on the European Union’s maritime strategy here.
Interesting discussion on shortsea shipping on gCaptain here.
We’re merchant mariners. We work in one of the most challenging industries in the world. Supplies are sometimes short, but the work lists are forever long. We adapt. We improvise. We overcome. Rube Goldberg and that MacGyver have nothing on us. But, let’s face it, sometimes we go too far.
And one of the places we go too far sometimes is storage. It doesn’t matter if you are on a tugboat or a 300 meter container ship, there just never seems to be enough room to store it all. There are rumors of a ship where a storeroom was built out of plywood in a void space. It was built so skillfully and with such guile that there were “welds” between the plates – all well and good until that flag state or classification society inspection. Most of us don’t go that far, but the envelope does get pushed.
Some of the issues that arise from improvised storage are the suitability of space for what’s stored there and how it is secured. Just because something is out of sight doesn’t mean that it can be out of mind. When the weather kicks up and the new “storeroom” is opened only to find gear and equipment strewn about or destroyed, all of a sudden that new space doesn’t seem as great as it did at the dock.
Similarly, what we store in these spaces might create far more than a mess to be cleaned up. Aerosol cans – lubricants, paint, air freshener, metal polish – the list goes on and on – are one of these items about which we need to be cautious. The magic number for these cans is 120. 120 degrees Fahrenheit, that is, or 50 degrees Centigrade. Storing aerosol cans at higher temperatures than that and you are risking a BLEVE – a Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion. It sounds bad, and it is.
Fire. It’s one of the worst nightmares for us on ships. Add explosions to the mix and the day just got far worse. So, how do we avoid such scenarios – at least with aerosol cans? Stow them in a relatively cool area – and one with mechanical ventilation. Why? Well, the ventilation will reduce the overall temperature even if the space isn’t air-conditioned. In addition, if that aerosol can ruptures and doesn’t catch fire, the contents may have an asphyxiating or anesthetic effect.
So, choose wisely what gets stowed where. If you have doubts, there may be information in your SMS (Safety Management System), from your P&I Club Loss Prevention guides or from your flag state and classification society. Other times, it may be that inspection that shows you the error in your ways.
The port of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania was the temporary home to two U.S. flagged cargo vessels this past weekend. Far from family, the merchant mariners onboard the container ship Maersk Alabama and the bulk carrier Liberty Glory were in this East African port offloading cargo, much as they have in ports ranging from Hodeidah, Yemen to Mombasa, Kenya. These exotic sounding cities are far from the norm for most Americans, but for the close to 50 U.S. merchant mariners onboard these vessels, on that day, it was home.
Maersk Alabama and Liberty Glory are operated by far different companies and crewed by officers from different unions, but there is one common denominator: They have both benefited from the Food for Peace program. Without such programs, it is unlikely that these vessels from the United States would have met in this far off land. For the U.S. mariners, it is an opportunity to work in a challenging and dynamic industry. For some of the 923 million hungry and starving people in the world, it is much more personal: They get to eat.
Much has been said in the press recently about changes to the Food for Peace program. President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 budget calls for major changes to this program. Specifically, he would rather that we write foreign countries and non-governmental organizations (NGO) a check so that they can buy food whenever and wherever they see fit. The perceived goal? Cost savings.
For the U.S. mariner’s on these vessels, it’s personal. One, it’s their jobs – jobs such that the Obama administration or any other country would wish to create. Two, with every call to these distant ports, with every cup of coffee or joke shared with the local longshoremen, with every successful cargo evolution, it’s personal. For the U.S. seaman, it’s not just a newspaper story about poor and starving, it’s the spare pair of coveralls or old work shoes that you give to the longshoreman that doesn’t have any. It’s the donations that these crews give to the local orphanages. It’s the warm handshake of the people you have worked with for years.
President Obama feels that the outsourcing of U.S. farmers’ and merchant mariners’ jobs is the most efficient way of using their tax dollars. Perhaps the bags of grain will still be stamped, “ USAID, From the American People,” but it will no longer be personal. For the U.S. farmers and merchant mariners, it will be, though. They’ll be looking for jobs.
Growing up, many of us heard cautionary tales from our parents that included lines such as, “If you do that, you’re going to break your neck.” Hearing these tales, many of us altered our plans, possibly avoiding serious injury. Others of us didn’t, but regardless, we were offered potential outcomes of risky behavior based on previous experience. Somewhere along the way, empowered with the invincibility of youth and possibly a new degree or license, a lot of us stopped listening to such advice. The result? We proceeded to make our own mistakes, from which we subsequently learned.
On a personal level, making our own mistakes comes at the cost of professional reputation, financial penalties and criminal or civil liability. Obviously, the potential consequences noted are at the most severe end, yet professional reputation is oft overlooked. We live and work in a relatively small community of mariners in which word of mouth or hearing news over the “grapevine” is common. Being known as a maverick, cowboy or risk-taker may not help you to find the next job or contract.
On a corporate level, many individuals insisting on making their own mistakes from which to learn is a costly endeavor. In an era where replacement materials and repairs are becoming ever more costly and profit margins ever thinner, any additional costs must be mitigated. While a single repair may not be exorbitant, multiplying said repair by ten, a hundred or in the extreme, a thousand, a common error or design flaw may wind up costing a company millions of dollars.
Thus far, the emphasis has been on the financial or legal repercussions, but the health and safety of our mariners is the primary reason why we need to learn from others’ mistakes. As supervisors and senior officers onboard ships, if we allow even one crew member’s health or safety to jeopardized by a situation that could have been avoided, we have failed miserably. Finances are certainly a concern, but are no match for the long-lasting effects of a serious injury or death.
So, we have tools such as near misses. Near misses are required under section 9 of the ISM (International Safety Management) Code issued by the IMO (International Maritime Organization) reporting of hazardous conditions. Further guidance was given by the IMO in MSC-MEPC.7/Circ. 7 “Guidance on Near Miss Reporting.” Most companies have an in-house system that they may or may not make available to all vessels. More often, the designated person ashore or HSSEQ (Health, Safety, Security, Environment and Quality) department will cull the more pertinent ones and forward to all vessels. The wider the dissemination of near misses, however, the greater the chance is that they will prevent similar incidents in the future.
One way to get an even greater effect is to have a centralized database of near misses. The Nautical Institute has a mature database of near misses under their MARS (Mariners’ Alerting and Reporting Scheme) program. This database reaches back to the early 1990s and contains a wide range of situations and incidents. Recently, the SOCP (Ship Operations Cooperative Program) and the U.S. Maritime Administration investigated establishing their own database. Such databases offer an industry wide and confidential method of reporting near misses without fear of repercussions. This premise of a “just culture” is what makes reporting a near miss palatable as it isn’t “putting yourself on report.”
So, can we learn from others? Or, must we make our own mistakes? Remember your parents’ advice…….