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Sound Off Revise mariner medical standards before it’s too late


September 22, 2011

By Walter Blessey

Over the past 33 years, our company has enjoyed a wonderful working relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard. As a partner with them in the Coast Guard’s Bridging Program, we have helped introduce and educate many newcomers in the Coast Guard to our industry through partnership programs both in the office and on the waterways.   

We have seen firsthand the quality of Coast Guard personnel and the high level of reverence they have for our industry. At Blessey Marine, we have nothing but respect for the Coast Guard and will continue to lead the effort in the bridging partnership. We think that they are as good as it gets.

However, we feel strongly that our industry needs to have a frank discussion with the Coast Guard regarding the medical standards now required of mariners to obtain and to retain their licenses. Our company recently had four of our experienced wheelmen denied license renewals due to medical issues that could be considered by some to be little more than age related. Extrapolating this trend to our 500 or so licensed mariners and to the industry in general, it is hard to believe that a personnel crisis doesn’t loom on the horizon.

At a considerable cost to us, we are accelerating entrants into our steersman program. I hope that our entire industry is doing the same and that we can keep up with the fallouts. Due to the time required to bring new folks into the wheelhouse, my fear is that the industry can’t keep up with demand. Furthermore, we are losing our most experienced mariners to health issues and replacing them with less experienced ones.

It is our opinion that the medical standards being imposed have gone a little too far. We are unaware of any significant number of age-related or health-caused marine incidents that would justify the medical bar being raised so high on our mariners. We feel that there will be more casualties as a result of inexperience rather than having slightly less rigid medical standards. We have a 13-year tankerman who has no ostensible hearing problem but is struggling to have his license renewed for not meeting hearing standards. We have to reach a balance where folks who have spent their careers in our industry can continue to make a good living and where serious health conditions are distinguished from minor medical issues.

Our industry trade organizations have to take this issue head on, discuss it with the Coast Guard, and see if some of the standards can be loosened. The inaugural Merchant Mariner Medical Advisory Committee meetings were a perfect opportunity to begin an open and honest dialogue with the Coast Guard, and we are encouraged by these developments. The iceberg that will sink our ship is on the horizon. We all need to act now to avoid it. 

   

Walter Blessey is the chairman and CEO of Blessey Marine Services Inc., a Harahan, La.-based inland tank barge operator. 

Expand/View Comments -  14 Comments
10/04/2011 03:59:49 Barry Weinreich says:

Lets get real gentlemen, We all know that the maritime schools are behind this.They are the ones that make money from turning out young oficers,and in America;it is all about the money. Wallstreet runs america now and insurence companies are wallstreet,60 and over;you have to get rid of them.The boat companies had better start spending money and build new boats,The young oficers are not going to work on old smelly boats that do not have computers to run the boats for them.Workboat should start a list of captains 60 and over that have been let go from there jobs just to show how very many there really are.

10/01/2011 11:19:44 Kerry Marlowe says:

I myself am one of the individuals affected by these stringent, and some yet frivolous rules. I have type 1 diabetes and its stays under strict control. All tests are within range, and I have even went the extra mile to make sure that its under control by getting a pump. I am not one of the so-called silverbacks, but I am a semi- experienced wheelman on my 3rd issue, and knockin on the door on number 4. I am not excessively overweight, or out of any of my parameter that the CG mandates. Now with that stated, might I say that I am in fear of not getting reissued like so many others, "just because" I have diabetes. I can understand that we need to have competent, and professional people within our industry. But when you take away somebody's livelyhood "just because" they have diabetes, thats total BS! Its almost as though they want a perfect individual

09/29/2011 18:55:48 Charles Martin says:

Keeping a dialog and working together both as Licensed mariners, owner operators the Coast Guard and physical examiners will suceed in making the guidelines fair and acceptable to all, common "Age Realted" health issues should be recognised as such, i myslef do not currently have any of these issues "yet" it would be catastrophic to myself and my family if for some reason something was to pop up on my physical renewal that would compromise my/our primary means of income. By working together in a respectful professional manner i'm confident this issue will be solved.

09/28/2011 07:11:15 CARL JACKSON says:

I MYSELF AM A NEW PILOT AND MUST SAY THAT I HAVE ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS TALKED WITH MY CAPTAIN WHO HAS BEEN A LICENSED MASTER FOR OVER THIRTY YEARS FOR ADVISE.I AM SICKENED AT THE FACT THAT THE USCG IS TAKING PEOPLES HARD EARNED MONEY FOR THERE FAMILIES JUST TO TELL THEM WERE TAKING YOUR CAREER...SORRY !!! I THINK IT IS A SHAME THAT WE AS YOUNG PILOTS ARE GONNA HAVE NO ONE TO LOOK UP TO EXCEPT THE PEOPLE THAT ARE MAKING THE SAME MISTAKES WE ARE...WE NEED THE EXPERIENCE IN THE WHEELHOUSE (PERIOD)!I ALSO THINK IS IS DISCRIMINATION TO SAY THAT IF YOU ARE GETTING OLD THAT YOU CANT HAVE A JOB OR YOUR HEARING ISNT 100% SO I GUESS THAT MEANS THAT ANYONE IN USCG THAT HAS ANY TYPE OF AILMENT ISNT FIT FOR DUTY RIGHT?

09/26/2011 21:31:51 H D Parsons II says:

I have come to the conclusion that it is time for a class action suit for violation of ADA or age discrimination or both. The damage they are doing to our industry and country is beyond their thinking !!! Yes the tools we have to work with today are way beyond our imagination when I started so many years ago yet there is nothing that can make up for the experience they are putting on the side line!!!! Rejecting a mans stress test because it was only 7 min and 30 sec instead of 8 min or because he had a small heart problem that is control by meds and making him do a &12,000 test (which his insurance does not pay for) every two years or they threaten to suspend his papers. They try to second guess their primary care Doctor who knows them best and cleared them for service. One must assume that the reviewers are just trying to justify their driving of the desk in these trying times and make it look like they are accomplishing something to their higher ups without knowing the true price being paid for they are getting paid regardless.

09/23/2011 09:41:32 Mark Mather says:

I had a 10 year employee serving as First Mate with an Unlimited Master and towing endorsement sailing aboard our ATB on the Great Lakes. He was next in line for a Captain's job when diagnosed with lung cancer. Surgery, radiation and chemo successfully treated the cancer, and he returned to work for a few months before his license was up for renewal. Needless to say, the Coast Guard would not renew his license, and now this 55 year old with 5 dependents is trying to live on $1800 a month disability.

09/23/2011 03:22:50 JOHN OREILLY says:

The USCG should look at the FAA's system of handling annual physicals. After all the FAA has to handle well over 10 times the number of physicals. In general when you leave the doctor's office the paper work is done. My doctor and the people that do the CG physical for my company both agree I am physically fit to do the job. It's just the faceless, nameless person in West Virgina that can't even take my pulse that is having a problem with issuing my 12th issue Ocean Master, First Class Pilot's license.

09/23/2011 00:31:29 Stephen Hopkins says:

62 y/o mariner and first class pilot for Washington State Ferries(WSF); call it the Department of Transportation for the State and the largest civilian navy in this country. We don't have to worry about an NMC Medical every five years or two years; just every year. I applaud the IMO's efforts and the USCG response to bring marine operations to the highest safe operating level possible. I wish to emphasis two points: The average age of a deck officer at WSF is older than 57 years. Most of the credential medical problems are a very simple result of allowing mariners to work long hours with little rest. We at WSF are paying the price for a patent failure of the Crew Endurance Management System(CEMS). I could go on but won't bore. You ride a horse too long and too hard and he/she will fail.

09/23/2011 00:06:43 James Collum says:

We have a saying in the South--Common Sense is and Uncommon Thing! Let the Auditor from the USCG come and ride with the Captain in Question as he flanks a sharp bend or bridge-Let them pump a barge with the Tankerman with a slight hearing loss--let them watch an engineer with high blood presure change a power pack while navigaiting on one engine, upbound. If the man cant do his job, come out and verify that! Don't just let someone read a report and then decide from that, that a person is incapabe. After all it is the USCG that has determined that all license personel be evaluated ON THE JOB by a qualified ASESSOR. Jim Collum

09/22/2011 22:54:53 Jay Elder says:

I am 57 yrs. old and my master's license (#7) is up for renewal next year. I went through the renewal "paperwork" requirements(what ever happened to the paperwork reduction Act?) and was astonished. After a long and hard review of the medical criteria I have elected to not renew my ticket. I have controlled sleep apena, controlled (RX) blood pressure and a few other old age issues. It would cost me to much time and money to get a "full" report on some of these issues without any idea if I would be approved for duty. I guess I'll hang my sexton up and pray my inexperienced replacement have the ability to to operate in a safe and seamenship like manner under difficult conditions. Is this considered age discrimination?

09/22/2011 22:15:47 Capt Smith says:

TheThe Coast Guard medics HAVE to keep finding things to test or include in exams otherwise they wouldn't be able to keep their jobs. Some of the things that they focus on are, according to their own doctors, just "silly".

09/22/2011 22:12:57 Capt Smith says:

09/22/2011 22:12:25 Capt Smith says:

09/22/2011 20:10:05 MARK FREEMAN says:

He is right the Coast Guard will overregulate us right out of business. Captains run the boats and think, they dont get out on deck and rassel lines like the young guys they are supposed to run the boat. YOu wont see any more old pictures with old captains. The Coast Guard is out of control and regulation happy. Mark Freeman

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