STCW reprieve?

In what may prove to be a temporary break for mariners, marine companies and training institutions, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that it would head back to the drawing board with its recently proposed STCW ’95-driven changes to mariner certification and training regulations.

In the notice (75 Fed. Reg. 13715), the Coast Guard indicated that a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking might be in the works.

If so, it will be nice to get some breathing room. However, don’t mistake it for a permanent stay of execution for the hawsepipers just yet. You must realize that this round of rulemaking was simply to fully implement the 1995 amendments to the 1978 STCW Convention. At 15 years and counting, the Coast Guard is way behind and remains under pressure from Congress to clear the backlog of rulemaking projects. But the 2010 STCW Diplomatic Conference ( convenes in Manila on June 21, where new revisions will be made that are expected to take effect in 2012. It’s likely that more burdensome regulations will eventually emerge.

Generally, I believe that the overall intentions of the IMO, the Coast Guard, and the NTSB are good, if somewhat misguided at times. Every time there is another “avoidable” pollution disaster or other serious marine accident, the pressure from the public and politicians to “do something” can be very intense. But it’s hard for me to understand how so many well-meaning people can’t see that killing off the hawsepipers, intentionally or unintentionally, is not the answer to improving marine safety.

The end result of eliminating the traditional hawsepipe advancement path will be that once we’re all gone, only school-educated mariners will be left to blame when things inevitably go wrong. And, as long as we humans continue to put to sea, they surely will. If recent history serves as a guide, then the answer will be that even more schooling is needed. Here we go again.


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