Brownwater News, July 2016

USMMA lifts Sea Year ‘stand down’ on federal vessels

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, N.Y., has ended the Sea Year “stand down” on federal vessels that was imposed in June and has started placing midshipmen back on federal assets such as Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships and Maritime Administration (MarAd) training vessels.

The stand down was lifted July 8 and midshipmen scheduled to graduate in 2019 began training on T/V Kings Pointer and T/V Liberator on July 11.

As for commercial vessel operators who are participating in the Sea Year program, the academy said there is “more to be done” before Sea Year is reinstituted for that group.

“MarAd and USMMA are in close collaboration with the industry to institute measures to ensure midshipmen can work and train in an environment that is both safe and respectful,” the academy said. “We stood up a compliance team to review the plan that industry presented at the call-to-action meeting to address the working environment and climate on board commercial vessels.”

More than 90 representatives of the maritime industry met in Washington on June 24 to address concerns about the shipboard working and living environment that led to the mid-June stand down.

Cmdr. Benjamin Benson, director of external affairs at Kings Point, said the maritime industry presented a proposal designed to “improve the quality of life on board vessels and provide a working and training environment that is both safe and respectful for the midshipmen.”

Benson explained further that the discussions focused on “industry culture, sexual assault and sexual harassment awareness and prevention efforts.” In addition, Benson said, attendees discussed industrywide best practices and reporting protocols, how to address the issues, training programs, assignment of onboard mentors, debriefing of all midshipmen upon completion of their Sea Year training, vessel visits by company operations representatives and a 24/7 hotline with a “duress code” available to all midshipmen.

The stand down for commercial vessels will be in effect until “adequate measures are instituted that ensure (the midshipmen) can work and train in an environment that is both safe and respectful,” Benson said. There was “no specific incident prompting this action. Effective learning can only take place when men and women feel safe and secure in a supportive environment.”

With full engagement from maritime stakeholders, the academy hopes to resume Sea Year this summer, Benson said. “We are making every effort to ensure an on-time graduation for any affected students,” he said.

Interviewed at the USMMA commencement ceremony on June 18, Maritime Administrator Paul Jaenichen addressed the reasoning behind the stand-down decision.

Jaenichen explained that the decision “is based on conditions that are going on, and it’s not just sexual harassment or sexual assault. It’s all the things that are surrounding it — it’s the harassment, it’s the hazing, it’s the coercion, it’s the retaliation … that’s not a conducive environment for training and it’s just not the way we should treat people. The bottom line is, we’re not trying to end Sea Year — we’re trying to mend it.”

Jaenichen said that his objective would be to allow midshipmen to learn their duties and fulfill their requirements “in an environment that is respectful of just normal, societal norms. And right now we have isolated incidents where that is not the case … We’re not putting a question mark on the entire industry. It’s just isolated incidents.”

In a telephone interview on June 29, Michael G. Roberts, senior vice president and general counsel of the Crowley Maritime Corp., echoed Benson’s report of the meeting held at the Department of Transportation and added that the officials discussed “what needs to happen in the near term so that the suspension of Sea Year can be lifted and midshipmen can continue to stay on commercial vessels with confidence that there is going to be a healthy working environment.”

House passes spending bill that blocks WOTUS rule

The House voted 231-196 on July 14 in favor of a spending bill calling for an appropriation of $32 billion in fiscal year 2017 for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Of particular interest to the inland waterways industry was the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule proposed by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. The rule, apparently blocked by language in the bill (H.R. 5538), is currently under a nationwide stay imposed by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court took issue with the content of the rule, and the lack of notice and comment for significant changes that were added in the final version.

The rule would expand federal jurisdiction over waters that appear to have little or no connection to flowing streams and rivers.

New port eyed on Mississippi River

In its June newsletter, the National Waterways Conference published a progress report on a strategy to create a public port along the Mississippi River near the South Quincy Development District about one mile downriver from Lock and Dam 21 in Quincy, Ill. Working on the port project is the Mid-America Port Commission, the first three-state compact in the United States, representing 11counties in Illinois, six in Iowa and nine in Missouri.

After the commission was established, an engineering study selected the northernmost ice-free location on the river for the port, which is expected to allow for 12 months of navigation. The port site was selected also because of its location near a 500-year levee that would protect industries and businesses near the port.

When built, it is estimated that the port will generate more than 400 jobs in the region and almost $100 million in economic output annually.

585 applicants seek $9.5 billion in TIGER grants

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has announced that 585 applicants have requested $9.5 billion worth of grants under the 2016 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.

The funding requested is about 18 times more than the $500 million that will be awarded, Foxx said. The TIGER grant program, now in its eighth year, focuses on capital projects that generate economic development and improve access to reliable, safe and affordable transportation for communities, both urban and rural. The program also prioritizes “innovation, partnership and ladders of opportunity.”

Since 2009, TIGER has provided nearly $4.6 billion to 381 projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, including 134 projects to support rural and tribal communities. Overall, the Department of Transportation has received more than 6,700 applications requesting more than $134 billion for transportation projects across the country.

Great Lakes users oppose higher pilotage rates

The National Industrial Transportation League reports that a coalition of Great Lakes trade and transport stakeholders filed suit early in June against a Coast Guard decision to increase pilotage rates on the Great Lakes by 58 percent over two years.

“Will Friedman, president of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, said Great Lakes pilotage costs have gone up 114 percent over the last 10 years, and now the Coast Guard wants to increase them another 58 percent by 2017,” the NITL reports in its June 3 notice. “Friedman said the increases are unsustainable and will ultimately erode the viability of international trade through Great Lakes ports.”

Two months ago, the Coast Guard announced that it had revised its pilotage ratemaking methodology and that it had adjusted annual pilotage rates.

Navigation safety council needs new members

The Coast Guard has invited interested parties to apply for membership on the Navigation Safety Advisory Council.

The council provides advice and recommendations to the Coast Guard and the Homeland Security secretary on matters relating to maritime collisions, rammings and groundings; Inland Rules of the Road; International Rules of the Road; navigation regulations and equipment; routing measures; marine information, diving safety and aids to navigation systems.

The Coast Guard, which will consider applications for seven positions that will be vacant on Nov. 4, said completed applications should reach the Coast Guard by Aug. 15.

For more information, contact George Detweiler at (202) 372-1566.

Senate panel OKs bill to allow Delta Queen to cruise again

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported June 29 that the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee had approved a bill that would allow the historic Delta Queen to once again cruise the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the legislation would reinstate a decades-long exemption to allow the boat to operate from its new home port at Kimmswick in Jefferson County, Mo. The exemption expired in 2008.

The measure now goes to the full Senate for its approval but that’s been tried before without success. Brown and others have tried to exempt the 88-room, privately owned steamboat from the 1966 safety laws barring wooden vessels from carrying more than 50 passengers overnight. Opponents of the exemption worry that Delta Queen and other older wooden boats are potential firetraps that could put passengers at risk.

Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who joined Brown in the bill’s introduction, said the 1920s-era wooden steamboat would operate cruises out of about 80 ports, with the St. Louis region getting 170 new jobs and more than $36 million in annual economic benefit if the plan goes through.

The Delta Queen Steamboat Co. commented on Facebook that the Senate committee’s approval was “a step in the right direction.”

The company urged Facebook users to continue to let their senators and representatives know “how much you want to see the historic Delta Queen sail again. They need to hear from you, so when it comes up for a vote they know their constituents expect their support! H.R. 1248 and S. 1717.” 

By Professional Mariner Staff