U.S. mariners subject to Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) rules have until July 1, 2015, to meet requirements for three levels of vessel security license endorsements.
Last year the U.S. Coast Guard extended the deadline from Jan. 1, 2014, to allow more time for training at the three levels provided for under its rule, which brings U.S. regulations in line with International Maritime Organization requirements.
Two new STCW security endorsements were created: Security Awareness (SA) and Vessel Personnel with Designated Security Duties (VPDSD) certifications, in addition to the existing Vessel Security Officer designation. The Coast Guard said the heightened training is in response to continued pirate attacks, along with the threat of maritime terrorism.
One of the three endorsements will be required of crewmembers on U.S.-flag STCW-compliant vessels over 500 gross tons. Those with the VSO endorsement automatically meet the requirements for both SA and VPDSD, the Coast Guard said.
All crewmembers without specific security-related duties, those called upon to “assist as directed,” need to hold at least an SA certification. The SA is the lowest level of STCW security endorsement. It can be obtained by taking an approved class conducted at one of many schools throughout the country, or online. The Coast Guard maintains a list of approved security awareness training classes on the National Maritime Center website.
The security training requirements in the STCW were developed as a progression where “security awareness” is the lowest level of training and “vessel security officer” demands the highest level of training. Holders of the highest level of endorsement automatically qualify at the lower levels.
Alternatively, the Coast Guard allows mariners seeking the SA and VPDSD designations to provide documentation showing that they have met requirements already outlined in 33 CFR 104.220 or can attest to seagoing service prior to Jan. 1, 2012, with designated security duties or performance of security functions equivalent to designated security duties for six months in the preceding three years. In lieu of attending an approved course, a certificate or letter signed by a company official documenting compliance will suffice for either endorsement.
The Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies (MITAGS) in Linthicum, Md., offers courses for all three endorsements in a weeklong sequence, according to Victor J. Tufts, maritime credential specialist. The first day is devoted to the security awareness credential. The next day adds material for the VPDSD. The VSO level requires the full week of courses. That sequence helps employers and mariners who need only a certain level of endorsement based on their duties.
“If you only need security awareness you can come for a day,” Tufts said. “If you need the VSO you can came for the week and never have to come back. A lot of employers want their people to only have a certain level.”
The institution has a mobile instruction team that travels to sites where employers or other groups gather mariners for instruction.
California State University Maritime Academy in Vallejo offers a combined vessel and facility security officer course that satisfies all the vessel security officer requirements as well as a VPDSD course approved by the Coast Guard that meets the general mariner security requirements, according to John Ostrander, director of training programs.
The academy does not offer any online courses for STCW requirements. Some training providers offer courses for the security awareness level, but that’s not possible for the more in-depth coursework required for the higher-level endorsements.
“There are aspects of the VSO that actually require demonstrations of proficiency and those have to be done in residence,” Ostrander said.
The approved courses stress administrative procedures more than real-world security responses.
“Our courses focus heavily on what do you need to do to satisfy the regulations,” Ostrander said. “The folks hear about vessel security (and) they think you’re going to teach them how to repel boarders, but we’re not going to do that.”
Instead the courses concentrate on maintaining access control to vessels and facilities.
“It’s very benign and very passive,” Ostrander said. “You have to stay on top of your game and the biggest thing you have to fear probably is a Coast Guard inspection.”
At MITAGS, the focus is on preparing mariners at all levels to be aware of potential threats.
“Part of security awareness training is, if you’re in a shipyard and somebody left a toolbox that doesn’t look like the rest of the toolboxes, what will you do?” Tuft said. “You’re going to report it and stay away from it. Don’t go open it.”
Most employers with mariners covered by the STCW requirements are taking courses well ahead of the extended deadline.
“Most of them are proactive as far as the regulatory side of the requirements, because it’s easier for them to keep up rather than try to catch up with things that have gotten past them until they get caught by an audit or inspection,” Tufts said.
At Cal Maritime, Ostrander is seeing a similar proactive approach in the industry.
“We’re seeing companies, well in advance of the regulatory mandate, have been requiring their folks to have these endorsements in order to be eligible for a contract,” Ostrander said.
Ultimately, mariners who operate internationally need to meet global requirements.
“Mariners have to be able to go to any flag state control nation and get in and out without any problems so they have to be proactive,” Tufts said.
Opting for higher levels of security endorsement can prepare a mariner to assume additional duties or move up to a higher rating.
“If they’re happy being an AB or a 3rd mate with a VPDSD, they may not want to be the security officer because they would have more responsibility depending on the fleet and the ship,” Tufts said. “But those proactive mariners that want that next position may take the higher-level endorsement to make themselves more marketable in their own company.”
Ultimately, the goal of the security endorsements is to make maritime jobs safer for the public and those in the industry.
“I think it’s great training and it can only make mariners safer and if it brings them home alive, all the better,” Tufts said.