Murphy: Take your required security course, and be sure to turn in certificates

Murphy Edit

Security, security, security.

No, I do not mean “securité” like in the radio call. And yes, I understand that this is French for “listen up,” so it might actually work for this article after all.

One of the classes I teach is the Vessel Security Officer (VSO). Have you heard of that certification? If not, you will!

This is one of the fairly new STCW requirements. It was originally set up that by Jan. 1, 2014, all commercial vessel crewmembers must have some security training.

The U.S. Coast Guard realized that everyone in the maritime industry just couldn’t get through one of the three levels of security training by the deadline. The new deadline is now July 2015. Yes, that gives you an extra year and a half to get this training. But from what I hear, the hammer will fall after that date. Be so advised.

Now, who needs what? This is something that all of you out there in the maritime industry should know about. Let’s start off with “crewmembers without security duties.” This bunch could include the galley staff, the folks that make the beds, and the folks that sell shore excursions on the cruise ships and others.

These folks need at least the four-hour “Security Awareness” class. This class includes things like reporting anything that looks out of place. And they need to know how the Vessel Security Plan pertains to them and their job. Not a lot of information, but enough that they can help protect the vessel.

The next level of training is for crewmembers with security duties. This group includes crewmembers that do gangway watch. And those guys that do the “security rounds.” And the crewmembers that check in vessel stores. And anyone that looks after the vessel. These folks need the “Vessel Personnel With Designated Security Duties” (VPDSD), which is an all-day, 8-hour class.

VPDSD is an expanded version of the Security Awareness class. You get a more in-depth look into the vessel security plan and how to deal with security breaches. Depending on the school, you might even get a chance to actually do a room search or a bag check exercise. All good fun!

And the next step up the security-training ladder is the Vessel Security Officer. This is either a 2½- or 3-day class, depending on where you go for the class. It goes into great detail with the vessel security plan and also domestic and international laws. In this class you get to do a number of exercises that really show what goes into the security of your vessel.

A big part of this class is looking things up in stuffy legal government books. Depending on your instructor, this class can be… well, let’s call it a bit “dry.” If you are lucky, the class can at least be “fun enough.”

I try to make the students laugh, have some fun and at least pretend that it is interesting. And I can say that all my students come away with a double dose of respect for the subject. I would like to think that their lives have changed a little bit forever.

In these VSO classes, I get all kinds of mariners. I have had engineers, deck hands, masters, cooks, office folks, dockworkers, security agents (the guys with guns), a group from NOAA, state university vessel crew and company managers. I even had one guy that owns a fleet of 160 barges. It’s always fun to see who walks in the door and why. But they all come away with a healthy understanding for security after they come to class.

You need to face the fact that life in America, and around the world for that matter, has changed a great deal just in our lifetime. Heck, it’s changed a great deal in just the past 10 years — and this required security training is all part of that change. You have to do it, so you might as well learn something and make your own life all the more secure.

One thing that I really need to stress is that the certificate from the school for these security classes is no good if you do not turn it into the Coast Guard. In fact, none of the certificates you might have in your bag are any good if you have not turned them into the Coast Guard — ARPA, Radar, Lifeboat, Fast Rescue Craft, Advanced Fire Fighting, etc. They do not count at all unless you turn them in.

And if you have not turned them into the Coast Guard, you might have a little problem. Most certificates, but not all, are only good for 12 months from the date of completion of the class. You best go have a look at all those certificates you have not yet turned into the Coast Guard and check the dates.

If you find any certificates that have not been turned in to the Coast Guard and they are older than one year, you had best go to your friendly local MSO right now. Not tomorrow or the next day. I have had three students recently who had a fistful of these “dead” certs.

If you have any certs that are over 12 months old, then you should turn them in right away and see if the Coast Guard will take them. If they do take them, cool. If they do not take them, then you will have to redo the entire class again. And pay again. And travel again. And be away from home again. And I do not know of any company out there that will pay again to send you to school for the same class they already paid for once. Best check.

All things considered, this new security stuff is to protect you! Not the “asset” (the vessel, barge, etc.), nor what you are carrying or dragging around. You should be very interested and attentive in this training. Few laws in life really are to your best interest. This one is.

The motto of the day is: CONSTANT VIGILANCE! Be careful and be safe out there! 

Capt. Dennis Murphy, of Olympia, Wash., is a longtime shipmaster and is an instructor at Pacific Maritime Institute, where he splits his time between teaching classes and working in the simulation department. He also teaches at Fremont Maritime.

By Professional Mariner Staff