Idle Thoughts Before the Holiday Weekend: two steps forward, one back

STCW: It's not just a pipe dream anymore…

I'm just one week removed from finishing up my BST course at MITAGS in Linthicum, MD. Sitting in my air-conditioned office, it is now easy to look back and reflect on my experience and wax nostalgic about it. And, probably the best part about all of it was being back amongst active mariners and swapping sea stories. Certainly, the comradery in the class was something I won't soon forget. No doubt that component of the journey will continue to be a key ingredient in my renewed vigor in this quest.

Last week, when I pulled the trigger on our weekly e-newsletter, I hadn't yet completed the full BST course. Since then, I did complete all modules and that certificate is now safely in my credential portfolio. Another down, many more to go. You also may remember me gloating about my ISPS-mandated CSO/VSO certification. Well, there's some bad news there, I'm afraid. Seems that the course I took does not qualify under the new rules. So, this ISPS / SSO / CSO / SOLAS compliant, Anti-Terrorism (Level II) qualified writer is going to have to go back and take some sort of new course to prove that to someone else's satisfaction. I feel a (focused) article coming on…

As someone else said to me last week, after advising me of the bad news with regard to my security certification (or lack thereof), "It just keeps getting harder." Indeed, it does. I myself wonder why a Military Sealift Command sponsored, one-week course (March 2004) does not comply with the new protocols, but that's not for me to say. I'll just go and get the new qualification.

One thing that I have gleaned from this experience thus far, however, is that courses like BST are necessary and have real value. All of it, from the personal social responsibility aspect, to medical training, survival skills in the water and – at least in my estimation – a very challenging firefighting module, will serve any mariner, in any role, on any vessel. Just as the days of the crude or ribald Master have largely become a thing of the past, hopefully the days of unsafe practices at sea will find the same fate. The MITAGS BST course goes a long way to satisfying that goal.

I'm hoping that the Bridge Resource Management (BRM) is my next course to take. I am also told that this one is extremely useful, especially for those of us who not only need the refresher, but also could benefit from a new way of thinking. More than twenty years since last signing onto a merchant vessel, I found myself (last week) having to think about things that seemed to be second nature to active mariners, especially the younger ones in the class. That's a good thing.

When I announced the goal of becoming STCW certified about six months ago, the general idea was to write some articles and illuminate the difficulties of qualifying for a new, time-consuming and expensive protocol, at a time when mariner recruitment and retention was a hot-button issue. It was a good idea and still is. Back then, I wondered just how many of these courses I could actually cram in, concurrent with my work schedule. Today, the goal is much more than that. Last week's BST course, preceded by the high-tech CMES online learning course and yes – the STCW security disappointment – have all only served to strengthen my resolve to get it done.

So far, my only regrets in this effort only surround not getting this done a little bit faster. Some day, however, I hope to go back to sea for a few weeks and further chronicle the role and life of the 21st century merchant mariner for MarEx readers. My wife has (so far) agreed to seven days only, but I am one heck of a negotiator. As always, I'll keep you posted. – MarEx

Joseph Keefe is the Managing Editor of THE MARITIME EXECUTIVE. He can be reached with comments on this or any other article in this e-newsletter at jkeefe@maritime-executive.com.

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