MarEx Mailbag:

This week’s Mailbag contains three letters specifically addressing last week’s lead editorial.

Maritime education, the net effect of STCW, and MERPAC input to all of that was the subject of last week’s editorial. We thought that the Maritime Education Summit and the quarterly MERPAC meeting which took place two weeks ago at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, MA brought to light some interesting points that MarEx readers would find of value. Indeed, the piece garnered heavy traffic from MarEx e-readers and brought in some letters, as well. I was surprised that two readers chose to focus on STCW impacts on the yacht business and mariners who toil there. Perhaps I should focus as much on all license categories as I tend to do on the so-called “blue water” mariners. Fair enough.

You can read last week’s editorial, entitled “The Last Straw” by clicking HERE. Below, you can also see what our readers had to say this week:

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Dear Mr. Keefe,

In your latest editorial concerning the recent MERPAC meeting you stated "in Europe, regulators are making noise about not accepting U.S. certifications for mariners until the sea time requirement is ramped up significantly to match that which is commonplace in other places." What are they talking about? Have they looked at their own incredibly flawed lower-level licensing system recently?

This is a remarkable position for the Europeans to make, particularly in light of their acceptance of their own creation, the "yacht limited" licenses which are deemed to meet STCW requirements for international service on vessels up to 3000 gross tons. What makes this sound so hypocritical is that virtually no sea time is required to obtain a 3000 ton master's license for commercial service, a "chief engineer" can be produced with only a few months of sea time and not a single day of service under the supervision of a licensed engineer. Time spent on board a yacht tied to a dock or merely "signed on" counts toward the already ludicrous experience requirements.

How can the Europeans possibly have a problem with our license system? To earn an American AB or QMED certificate requires far more sea time - real sea time at sea on a real ship doing real seaman's work - than an MCA 3000 ton master or "Y1" chief engineer. For a group of nations which gave us the "zero to hero" culture of maritime licensing which converts a green deckhand to master with only a few months of sea time, the thought that they are "making noise" or questioning American sea time requirements is simply mind-boggling. Those EU members grumbling about U.S. sea time standards for lower level licenses might better serve the industry by looking in their own backyard.

Richard Boggs

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: I confess that I haven’t researched this reader’s interpretation of the rules as they apply to any aspect of documentation and licensing, but he brings up some valid points. He was one of two people to bring up the yachting issues and connection. Here is another letter with a different, but equally interesting focus:

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Hi Joe:

I read with interest your STCW editorials.

Having just returned from Panama where I was on an SOCP panel with (names removed by request…), I offer this tidbit from my presentation which represented the Academy view point of STCW.

Remember “COSCO BUSAN”?

Pilot, Master and Mate were all STCW certified.

However none of the above NOR the USCG San Francisco Traffic System recognized that the vessel was on a parallel course to the Bridge when all instruments should have been showing a LINE across the vessel track. No one bothered to watch the Magnetic Compass along with the gyro heading.

Joe, these are simple things to do and check to ensure your vessel is headed where you want it to go.

Basic Seamanship you might say…

NOW, lets relate that to STCW.


However what STCW fails to do is assess system health. How do you know when your instruments and in most cases today your integrated systems are telling you the truth? Checking the Magnetic compass is certainly one way. Cosco Busan was not just a bit off course it was off by a large amount; certainly enough to have made the mag Compass valuable. So if instrument confusion was the problem, which I have heard it was, what’s the matter with that straight line that should have been across your heading on both radars AND the ECDIS?

STCW assessments for both deck and engine on today’s integrated ships need to be ramped up to the SYSTEM level.

As a training ship Master, I strive to impart a lot of basic seamanship and SEA SENSE into my Cadet watchstanders so they will recognize the validity of what their instruments are telling them.

Prime example: On a northbound ship on the 04-08 in the morning……you should be intimately aware that daylight should appear on your starboard side. If it does not you are certainly NOT Northbound.

All the best,

Captain Larry Wade
Maine Maritime Academy

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: The reader brings up some good points. And, I have to admit that as I sat through one particularly long MERPAC session where they were discussing the possibility of removing at least some aspects of celestial navigation requirements from the licensing standards, I also (privately) questioned the wisdom of that action. A long time ago, when I got my first Second Mate’s job, I also bought a sextant to take with me for heading off for that particular assignment. It cost me about $1,200 in 1982 dollars, but I thought that’s what a professional mariner was supposed to do. I don’t think the need for celestial navigation proficiency has gone away. It might be a last resort for today’s deck officer, but nevertheless, it is an important skill. Here’s one final letter from a real fan:

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Wow, what a long, long article. I think it would help if you boiled that down to maybe two sentences. I'm interested, but just can't dig through 2000 words to find the message.


Name Withheld

MarEx Editor’s Remarks: The reader didn’t like the length of my editorial. He also took me to task (later in another E-mail) for not understanding the requirements of STCW and its net effect on yachting licenses. I let him know that my editorial was only 1,723 words. And, I told him, “It's not sexy, but it is important. Eventually, it will create a crisis. Pay closer attention. That was the message (you had to get to the final paragraph to understand it).” He responded:

If you think STCW is not affecting the yacht industry you’re wildly out of touch. We're ruled by STCW and for many the paper chase is the hardest part of the job. Yachts don't like to give us time off to update our certificates, but it seems one is always in need of some new or re-new of some class.

As far as certification goes, to work on a yacht over 24 meters we need the same certificates as any ship. Some yacht licenses are specific, such as Yachtmaster, but over 24 meters it's all the same as any other vessel. My engineering certificate is a MEC3, same as the ships.

We all take the same STCW 95 and the same advanced firefighting etc. In many ways this is a bad thing as we train for a fire or emergency aboard a ship, then step onto a yacht where we have a new plan. To many the steady increase in STCW is more revenue generation for the schools and agencies involved than a real advantage to the industry.

MarEx Editor’s Final Remarks: I get to have the last word on Thursdays. And, I let the reader know that my impression of the “schools and agencies” is that the last thing they want to do is make the process harder. The system should produce a qualified mariner, but there are efficient ways to do that. The MERPAC people, the academies, union legacy schools and the private institutions are trying very hard to accomplish that goal. Lastly, I let him know that if he’s operating a 24 meter yacht, then he should have a license. That’s a big boat. I also offered the opportunity to write an OPED for the e-newsletter, where he can educate me in public, without any restrictions on content. He’s too busy for that right now. If he does submit something, I wonder if he can “boil it down to two sentences.” I’ll keep you posted.