MarEx Mailbag: Reader Response to MarEx E-News and More

Last week's editorial entitled, "Be Careful What You Wish For" not only brought in a fair bit of mail, it also nearly eclipsed our previous record for e-traffic for a single article in our weekly e-news format. Weighing in at more than 31 percent of our total article "reads" for the week, the piece struck a nerve in more than one way. You can read last week's editorial by clicking HERE. Read on to see what MarEx readers had to say on the matter:

* * *

Mr. Keefe:

Your editorial piece on the on the NTSB's treatment of Captain Cota really hit the mark. Actually, what they did to him was much worse -- more underhanded, unfair and, in my opinion, illegal. Not only was his confidential medical information disclosed, it was significantly misrepresented, as was his "record" of past incidences.

My view is that what the NTSB and the US Attorneys office are doing to Captain Cota is not only unfair and dishonest (but for different reasons), it's completely unnecessary. The errors and deficiencies in Captain Cota's performance that day are clear. His career is over, he will never pilot or work on the water again, and he and his family are facing financial ruin. He doesn't need to be railroaded and smeared, however.

Name Withheld

* * *


I found this article very disturbing. I have personal experience dealing with an NTSB casualty investigation and found it extremely enlightening. The NTSB team of "experts" investigating the incident each prepared an independent report for their area of "expertise" which were submitted to NTSB's lead investigator. The lead investigator promptly bundled the reports off to our office for review and comment. There was no common format utilized in their reports. The reports were rife with errors regarding straightforward facts. The individual reports were never cross checked and were contradictory relative to simple facts. It was left to us as ship managers to point out all the discrepancies and inaccuracies, establish a basic time line and essentially rewrite their report. NTSB seemed more intent on getting TV face time than conducting a professional investigation.

Better the devil you know? (than a bunch of political hatchet men?) Don't even think about divulging my name.
Best regards,

Name Withheld

MarEx Editor's Remarks: The trend for the first two letters shows a marked unwillingness to be identified. And, who can blame them, after the NTSB performance in their April COSCO BUSAN hearings. The author of this letter is a former colleague and an experienced industry professional.

* * *


You are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic in your latest editorial comment on which agency should have the responsibility for marine accident investigations. Or to use another cliche, "The horse is already out of the barn."

The real question should be "How do you prevent such accidents as the COSCO BUSAN allision from happening again?" The answer is, "It probably can't be done."

With the ink still wet on my Third Mate's license in 1945, I ran through the Florida Straits in as loaded T-2 one night with traffic all around me. When the Second Mate relieved me at midnight, I remarked that the Captain had never once come on the bridge. I opined that he was probably keeping an eye on me through his cabin porthole. The Second Mate laughed and replied, "Are you kidding? He passed out before you ever came on watch!"

In the 63 years since that night I have personally witnessed or known about many, many (too many) similar cases of impairment among key shipboard personnel and pilots in critical situations. The sad thing in retrospect is that we all knew what was going on in most cases, but kept out mouths shut. "Brotherhood of the Cloth" and "Never break another man's rice bowl."
prevailed. The saddest thing is to hear a president of a pilot association privately admit to his relief that an alcoholic member has lost his license.

And so the reputations of 99 percent are diminished by the actions of a very few. How airline pilots must wince every time Jay Leno makes a joke about drunken pilots!

No, the same accidents happen over and over again and physical impairment plays a major role.

So, if the peers of a physically or mentally impaired mariner cannot or will not intervene, that leaves the Coast Guard or NTSB or maybe an insurance company. Any other ideas?

Name withheld (I did not have permission to use this gentleman's name at the time we pulled the trigger for this week's e-news).

MarEx Editor's Remarks: I answered this individual via E-mail earlier this week. Part of what I wrote to him was: The point of the piece was not to say one was better then the other. Mariners everywhere have been moaning about how they been treated by the USCG ALJ's. Well, meet the new boss - same as (worse) than the old boss. Beyond this, the bill (HR2830) has so many flaws in it – and yes, I'll get to all of them in a future column – that it will be a disaster from the git-go.

RE: the NTSB, etc. One of the things that is coming, and he alluded to it, to a certain extent, is that mariners are now going to have to undergo the same heightened scrutiny that every other mode driver (air - truck - rail) have done for decades. Having last sailed in 1985, I can't even imagine what it must be now like to go to sea under this regulatory climate.

Scrutiny and harsh (fair) treatment for offenses is expected. What is not expected is the abridgment of one's rights. The NTSB hearing in April showed mariners everywhere that they got what they wished for, and more. Someone should intervene. But, if we are going to make a change, let's get it right. The NTSB is a poor – and as yet, unproven – substitute for the current system. Read on:


* * *


Nice oped on "Be Careful What You Wish For". As it happens, the proposed IMO code on maritime casualty investigation would give mariners a level of privacy and confidentiality which the NTSB roadshow would have contravened. As you know, it is only the US that opposes such protection.

Bob Couttie

MarEx Editor's Remarks: Actually, I wasn't aware of that. The author is a regular contributor to MarEx copy and also runs the free, online Maritime Accident Casebook from the UK. Look for Bob's latest submission elsewhere in this E-newsletter. Read on for one more on this subject:

* * *

To Maritime Executive Mail Bag: (COSCO BUSAN)

There sure seems to be some recent changes in the Laws governing who is responsible for the safe navigation of a seagoing vessel when navigating in inland waters with a "Required Pilot aboard."

I graduated from the California Maritime Academy in December 1943, and then sailed almost constantly until I retired in 1994. I sailed for sixteen years (three as Master) with American President lines, then as a Panama Canal Pilot for Six years, than as Master for Sea Train and Matson Navigation Co. For the next 28 years. I also retired as a Captain in the US Naval Reserve, which included two active duty tours teaching ship handling to prospective Naval Aircraft Carrier Captains. I also hold a USCG License as Pilot for San Francisco Bay, Honolulu, and Guam. I retired as Commodore of the Fleet, Matson Navigation Co.

The position of a pilot aboard any vessel in US inland waters was always very clearly defined as "As an adviser to the Master with local knowledge." He was normally given the con of the vessel; his orders, acquiesced by the Master, were given directly to the bridge team. There was never any question that the Master was in complete command of the navigation of the vessel.

The Master not only has the authority to override the Pilots Orders, but in the case of endangerment to the vessel, and the safe Navigation of the vessel, he is required to do so, and would be held at fault if he did not do so.

The only place to my knowledge where the Master is relived of the Navigational Control of the Vessel was the Panama Canal, where the Canal company assumed full responsibility for the safe transit of the vessel and assumed all liability for the Navigation of the vessel, not related to the failure of the vessels equipment.

No information has been made public as to what caused the erratic course changes of the COSCO BUSON. I am also at a loss as to why all SF Bay pilots do not carry a laptop computer that would display the "AIS" Data, or at least a portable GPS. I could safely navigate my automobile through the Bay with the small GPS that can tell me which lane of the highway that I am driving in.

Captain K. R. Orcutt

MarEx Remarks: There's not much that I can add to this except to say that I agree with him in that the definition of pilot and Master responsibilities seems to have changed markedly since I first took my Coast Guard exams. Captain Orcutt's qualifications seem to speak for themselves. The next letter addresses a different topic and editorial altogether.

* * *

The April 17th editorial entitled, "One if by Land; Two if by Sea The Docking Masters are Coming, The Docking Masters are Coming…" didn't bring in a lot of mail. In fact, it didn't bring in any. In cases like this, one of two things can be assumed: Either no one cares or I am absolutely right. In this instance, it appears to be a little of both. The editorial garnered almost 12 percent of our traffic for the week, so a healthy chunk of MarEx readers thought it important enough to read.

The issue of whether or not Massachusetts lawmakers decide to grant a rate increase to local harbor pilots may not be necessarily the most important thing on the minds of maritime executives along other coasts, but perhaps it should be. As we are on the verge of the "shortsea shipping revolution," Boston could, as a relatively shallow draft port, be an enormous beneficiary of this concept – but not if they persist in playing political games on Beacon Hill. They are slowly killing Boston Harbor – and by association, Massport and any semblance of ocean commerce that may still be coming in.

In the end, the rate increase in Boston was being held up by one thing: the attempt to attach docking master certification language to the bill. That metric may or may not still be in play. Stay tuned. It is also worth noting that, in certain instances, the terms for using a docking master – the guy who controls or pilots the vessel during the all-important docking and undocking phase of the transit in Boston harbor – is engaged under the following terms:

PILOT NOT TO BE PERSONALLY LIABLE – The pilot is the servant of the vessel and its owner and is an advisor to the master and is at all times subject to the control of the master. The services of the pilot while participating in directing the movement of a vessel from onboard such vessel or from elsewhere are accepted on the understanding that neither the owners nor the operators of a vessel making use of or having available her own propelling power will assert any personal liability to respond in damages, including any rights over, against the pilot for any damages sustained or caused by the vessel even though resulting from the pilots negligence in respect to the giving of orders to any of the tugs furnished to or engaged in the assisting services and/or in respect to the handling of such vessel. Furthermore in the event of any claim against the pilot by any third party the owner and/or operator agrees to defend, save and hold the pilot harmless from any and all claims except for actions which are found to be occasioned by the pilot's willful misconduct or gross negligence.

As I read and listen to the accounts of the COSCO BUSAN allision investigation, the forgoing "terms" certainly don't sound consistent with how the business of pilotage can be expected to be treated in the coming years, at least here in the United States. But, Massachusetts legislators are pretty smart people. They'll get this right, won't they? You can read the April 17th editorial by clicking HERE.

MarEx Editor's remarks: Read on to see what one MarEx reader thinks about the current climate for American mariners, or as he refers to it a little tongue-in-cheek, "a golden era." This Master Mariner's E-mail was entitled, "Ironic Anniversary," and references his recent renewal of his documents and his take on the current state of affairs. The author has written to MarEx in the past, but asked on this occasion for his name to be withheld:

* * *

Greetings Joe,

I recently renewed my radar endorsement. This entitled me to a congratulatory letter from Capt. Stalfort at the National Maritime Center. The Captain's letter has two paragraphs of atta-boys(!), solicitation of my opinion and a reminder of what an important asset I am to the nation. Combined with all the recruitment advertisements, this would appear to be a golden era for mariners. With our improved stature and value it remains puzzling why so few of our fellow citizens are following us in seafaring careers.

Interestingly, we are approaching the 25th anniversary of the drubbing the MM&P received at the hands of the tanker operators, federal government and other maritime unions. That started a roll-back of wages, benefits, and opportunities that US mariners still have not recovered from.

So, when is the next bold and decisive conference to address the mariner shortage?

Name Withheld Upon Request

* * *

MarEx Editor's Remarks: This mariner's opinion of the current state of affairs does not necessarily coincide with the rosy state of affairs for today's mariners that seems to pervade every news release and dire warning about "the growing global shortage of mariners." He suggests that conditions – at least for U.S. mariners – have not improved to the extent that some would have us believe. He may have a point: If, in 1980, I could (and did) earn about $50,000 in 5 months at sea and today's graduates are boasting about starting salaries for mariners that reach as high as $70,000, I then wonder who is better off. I don't have the consumer price index numbers handy at this moment, but I'm guessing that the cost of living has at least doubled since 1980. I know the cost of housing probably has.

Link to newsletter article
Link to newsletter archive