UN, IMO, STCW, ISM
While the WTO is finally making waves among America's
increasingly disenfranchised workers,
The New World Order hit the high seas with a splash almost nobody heard.
(An American Seaman's Diatribe)
by William R. Carr
While the December, 1999, demonstrations in Seattle show that many Americans are finally awakening to the job and sovereignty robbing aspects of the World Trade Organization (WTO), few noticed when our trusty representatives relinquished our right to set professional standards of competency in our own national merchant marine. On October 1, 1991, the United States quietly became a Party to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, (STCW). This, like so many other United Nations "covenants" and "conventions" our mis-representatives have signed us onto, took a large gouge out of our national sovereignty.
The convention, under auspices of the London based International Maritime Organization, (IMO) had been adopted by most UN member states in 1978. The United States signed on only in 1991 (apparently there having been a residual element of American nationalism in Congress before that time). In so doing, Congress signed away our nation's right to set professional standards and be the sole regulating and issuing authority for certification and licensing of merchant marine personnel. When it is realized that the merchant marine, is the "fourth arm of national defense" the significance of this transition becomes obvious. Before Congress signed us up, the United States enjoyed traditional freedom of the seas, and remained the sole regulatory authority over its merchant marine, and no other nation could dispute that authority.
While the U.S. Coast Guard continues to issue American merchant marine documents and licenses as in the past, those documents and licenses no longer qualify American merchant mariners to serve on American, or any other, ships in international trade beyond a designated national "boundary." Seamen's documents and licenses must now be "validated" by United Nations authority, or they aren't worth the paper, (or plastic, in the case of the new, credit card-like, merchant marine documents) they're printed on. Our ships arriving in foreign ports with "unqualified" personnel on board may be detained by foreign state authorities until the vessel is in compliance with STCW requirements. The United States Coast Guard, (previously the sole issuing and regulatory authority over American merchant seamen) now issues STCW certificates to American mariners, in it's new capacity as a de facto agent of the United Nations' IMO. In effect, American mariners must now be certified and licenced by UN authority.
The message to American (and all) mariners is, "Knuckle to IMO STCW standards, and UN authority, or swallow the anchor."
THE INTERNATIONAL SAFETY MANAGEMENT CODE (ISM)
In 1993, the same international bodies adopted the International Safety Management (ISM) Code. This Code had been in the IMO hopper for several years, but was originally only termed management guidelines for shipowners and operators world-wide. International bureaucrats, however, "felt that the Code was so important that it should be mandatory."
The ISM Code was made mandatory in 1994 under the auspices of the existing Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 (SOLAS) -- which the United States had long ago subscribed to in order to make the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, (More commonly referred to as the Rules of the Road) internationally binding. A new chapter was added to the existing convention, entitled Management for the Safe Operation of Ships, with the purpose of providing "an international standard for the safe management of ships and for pollution prevention." When the ISM became mandatory, through Congressional acquiescence, it spelled another significant loss of national sovereignty in maritime affairs. All maritime nations, whether or not they signed any of the conventions, are empacted.
The Code requires all shipping companies, owners, or persons responsible for ship operation, to establish a safety management system (SMS) in accordance with United Nations IMO, ISM micro-management requirements. Non-compliant ships, whether their governments signed the convention or not, can be detained by port authorities until they are in compliance.
In other words, henceforth, all high seas commerce, ship operations and management, and the competency, training, licensing, and documentation standards (for literally all the seamen in the world who sail the high seas), comes under the undisputed regulatory authority of an agency of the United Nations. With this development, the age-old concepts of the freedom of the seas, and national flag sovereignty over merchant fleets, has passed into history. Apparently few noticed, and fewer cared. It's "one more case" of our so-called representatives giving away our national birthright -- our very national sovereignty -- to the United Nations.
The ISM message to all shipping companies is: "Knuckle to IMO ISM standards, or go out of business."
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In 1979, an international group of "experts" drafted the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, which called for development of a global search and rescue plan. This group also passed a resolution calling for development by IMO of a Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), to provide the communications support needed to implement the new international search and rescue plan. The system is based on a combination of satellite and terrestrial radio services, and changes international distress communication from being primarily ship-to-ship based, to an automated ship-to-shore, (Rescue Coordination Center) based system. In 1988, IMO again amended the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, making GMDSS systems mandatory on literally all ships of over 300 gross tons by 1 February, 1999.
U.S. Ships were officially brought under this requirement by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. American ship-owners have no choice in the matter, and the tried and true radio officers, and their radio telegraphy and Morse Code, are being willy-nilly relegated to history, ready or not, at great cost to the industry. Nor do the U.S. Coast Guard or Federal Communications Commission have any significant degree of latitude in setting standards and equipment requirements for American ships. Once again we have relinquished a slice of national sovereignty to United Nations authority. The IMO, and not the U.S. Coast Guard or Federal Communications Commission, now sets the standards for GMDSS equipment on American ships.
Once again, the message to shipowners and mariners is, "Knuckle to IMO GMDSS standards, or get out of the shipping business."
The traditional skilled radio operators, who have been required on all ships since shortly after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, and their dedicated shipboard radio rooms, are being relegated to the dust bin of history. In their place is a large array of computerized equipment placed in the pilothouse or chart room, under the operational control of watch-standing navigation officers. Masters and mates are now required to acquire and hold special FCC GMDSS operator licenses, and to attend Coast Guard mandated hands-on training courses.
This additional GMDSS skills training and license requirements do not entitle effected ship's officers to any additional pay, (in fact most American officers have recently experienced significant pay cuts, and more are threatened.) but they do considerably increase their work-load and responsibility. More significantly, extra communications duties potentially distract officers from their primary navigation duties.
[I have since found that some companies are paying an additional premium to deck officers for communications duties where the radio officer has been eliminated.]
Though the GMDSS system may be a significant improvement over the traditional radio communications systems in most ways, mandating a shift of responsibility from a dedicated radio-electronics officer to navigation officers, whose primary duties may thereby be disrupted, hardly seems to be a giant step toward greater safety at sea. In fact the GMDSS requirement is also effectively an international mandate permitting a further reduction in vessel manning -- removing a critical position at the cost of safety -- in the guise of technologically increased safety.
The none too subtle message to radio officers is even more final than for other mariners, "You're history!"
JANUARY, 2000 NEWS FLASH
"SS ROBERT E. LEE RACKED BY ROGUE 50-FT. WAVE OFF N.CAROLINA. The MM&P - contracted Waterman Steamship LASH vessel SS ROBERT E. LEE was racked by a rouge 50-ft. wave on Jan.20 about 500 miles south of Morehead City, NC. Windows were blown out on the forward bridge facing the bridge and chart room. The INMARSAT A and C communication systems were destroyed by the onslaught of sea water which also threw the ship’s radar console across the bridge. The vessel reported that both radar and GMDSS systems were knocked out along with the ship’s running lights. The LEE’s master, MM&P member Capt. William Dunford and an unknown AB experienced cuts on their hands from flying glass. No serious injuries were sustained. The ship is now in Morehead City undergoing repairs."
My Comment: Maybe it isn't such a good idea to put all communications equipment, including all emergency systems, on the bridge!!
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AFFRONT TO NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY
In spite of almost universal agreement that there is a need for uniform standards in the maritime industry, and all the "good points" of the various IMO safety and environmental codes, the problems come with the concept of uniform implementation and enforcement. The currently favored system of flag state and port certification, inspection, and enforcement, combined with a system of "self-monitoring" simply cannot be expected to result in uniform implementation and enforcement of codes, no matter how good it might look on paper. The world simply doesn't work that way yet, and probably never will. The only way it could ever come close would be for a gargantuan, globe-straddling, IMO Big Brother marine police-force to emerge -- a global Matt Dillon of the high seas. This won't happen any time soon -- mainly because Panama and Liberia, the biggest problem flag states, are also IMO's largest paymasters. They simply won't allow it. Ironically, this is good, because a global maritime police force could be expected to be as inevitably inept as it would be corrupt. But the global government mentality and basic framework are already in place, codified into international law and almost every nation, including the United States, has signed on. That's bad enough.
The main point at issue is the fact that, from now on, literally all regulatory and safety standards and requirements will be imposed on American ship-owners and mariners by international authorities (United Nations authority), rather than our own national authorities, regardless of practicality or special operational considerations. In short, we've given up the national right to manage some of our most valuable national assets in the manner best suited to our own national interests.
One would think such comprehensive assaults on national sovereignty would illicite a general hue and cry from every corner of the nation, and especially from the maritime industry itself. But that hue and cry has been most notable by its absence. Everybody concerned seems to accept this loss of national sovereignty, and degradation of the freedom of the seas, as being the inevitable and "normal course of events." The New World Order, and the total subservience of national sovereignty to UN authority, seems to be an accepted fact in maritime affairs.
Nicholas Blenkey, editor of the industrial journal Marine Log, expressed the typical reaction in his May 1998, editorial, "Raising the Standards." Mr. Blenkey wrote:
"The marine industry is in the process of a fundamental change. The most obvious of the forces that are bringing that change about is the International Safety Management code..." (The ISM) demands that shoreside management be directly accountable for what goes on aboard ship and that systems be in place that ensure that management knows about things that it might be convenient not to know about...
"What's more, avoiding compliance with ISM won't be easy... ISM is only one manifestation of the changing regulatory climate. The beefed up STCW (Standards of Training and Certification for Watchkeepers) is another. The new STCW marks a massive power grab by IMO, the International Maritime Organization. For one thing, governments that are signatory to the convention are obliged to impose its requirements on ships of non-signatory nations that visit their waters. In other words, even if the country whose flag your ship flies doesn't sign on for STCW, the Coast Guard and its equivalents elsewhere around the world, will still expect their seafarers to meet STCW standards. And what those standards should be is spelled out in detail in the convention and is no longer at the discretion of the flag state. The U.S. Coast Guard, for instance, now has little latitude in setting requirements for U.S. seafarers' licenses. It has to ensure that the standard it enforces are consistent with those prescribed by STCW. As the U.S. Coast Guard had as much input as anyone in framing that prescription, this is not the huge affront to sovereignty it might seem." (emphasis added)
Not the huge affront... it might seem? Oh, isn't it? It matters not who had "input" into the regulatory prescription processes. If our national government no longer exercises exclusive control over its merchant marine, it has effectively given up a very significant portion of its national sovereignty. The fact is, the nation is no longer the sole regulatory authority over its own seaborne assets -- and one of its most vital national security mechanisms. To a significant degree, this also represents a repudiation of the very concept of "freedom of the seas." When it is considered that the "fourth arm of our national defense" is at stake, the seriousness of the implications are overwhelming.
Will our government eventually relinquish its regulatory control over professional training standards for the United States Armed Forces too? We would like to think not -- but we certainly seem to be moving in the direction. Placing personnel and units of our armed forces at the operational disposal of the United Nations, of course, became common-place long ago. Can the time be far off when the United Nations is given the power to set standards of our national military service? Will an "UN-American Foreign Legion" (whether under UN or NATO auspices) become the model for our national military service personnel?
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WHO ARE THESE BRILLIANT AND ABLE IMO PROFESSIONALS
NOW IN CHARGE OF OUR NATIONAL MARITIME DESTINY?
Some of the world's brightest and best ships' officers-turned-bureaucrats man the IMO. They are a very professional, highly trained and motivated, lot -- and they have more than just a passing talent for building and administrating bureaucracies on a grand scale. Decendents of British and European empire builders and colonial adminstrators now man the machinery of international maritime regulation agencies. The British were famous for their meticulous colonial administrations, and the IMO bureaucracy seems to have been created in the image of the intricacies of British colonial administration.
Just as the role of the IMO was expanding, the British and western European merchant navies, like their American counterpart, were in precipitous decline. Those nations too had begun betraying their own national flags on the high seas. British Board of Trade master and extra-master licensees, along with former ships' officers from other European and Commonwealth countries, deprived of their sea-going careers, flocked in to satisfy the demand for talent at the IMO. Few American mariners answered the call, mainly because most Americans consider the whole United Nations establishment little more than an alien diplomatic organization used for dealing with third world problems. Few realize they are becoming direct "subjects" of what many have traditionally seen as a mere diplomatic debating society.
It is to this large pool of talent that we owe the high quality and meticulous attention to detail entailed in the various regulation codes, books, and manuals that will henceforth micro-regulate the global maritime industry through the S.O.L.A.S. (Safety of Life at Sea), ISM and STCW rules. They have done their job well, and deserve much credit for a masterful job in clarifying and codifying the new generation of international rules of the sea.
It isn't the quality of their work, nor even the volume or intricacy of it, that this author calls into question. It's the high-handed manner in which America's maritime commercial and defense assets, and American mariners, have once again been placed under the domination of European regulatory authority. We have come full circle from the pre-revolutionary times when our colonial forefathers chaffed under similar regulatory shackles from abroad. The cry then was "taxation without representation," but it was also "regulation without representation."
It took a Revolutionary War, and another War of 1812, to throw those chains off two centuries ago. It only took a couple sessions of our present day American Congress to reforge them. Yes, the burden of guilt for this perversity lies squarely upon the shoulders of our American Congress and the occupants of the White House -- not with any distant foreign despot. Rather than adapting American standards to conform to international standards, under the exclusive authority of U.S. law (as they could have done), our so-called representatives have chosen to put our entire maritime industry and its regulatory machinery into a bindingly subservient position to international bureaucrats not unlike those from whom we once fought to free the nation.
In so doing, Congress has effectively repudiated our Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution they are sworn to uphold. They now openly advocate international interdependence, and global regulation under extra-national authority, as national policy. So much for the validity of oaths of office in this day and age. And so much for national political and economic independence.
WHY THE MERCHANT MARINE IS SIGNIFICANT TO THE NATION
Most Americans don't understand what the merchant marine is, much less its importance. So let me digress a little and explain. Not only do merchant ships carry all of the nations' ocean-borne commerce, during war time the merchant marine becomes the main supply-line in support of the armed forces, carrying supplies and war materiel to the troops engaged on foreign soil. Today we have troops stationed in something like 144 nations around the globe! Without merchant marine back-up, those troops could be left out on a limb in the event of serious warfare in any of those arenas.
The Navy itself, of course, was born of, and grew out of, the merchant marine. The importance of the merchant marine in national defense and commerce was such that it became our first government subsidised industry. The United States Public Health Service came into being as the Marine Hospital Service, to serve the needs of American merchant mariners. That's why the Surgeon General's uniform, to this day, is a naval, (or merchant marine officer's) uniform. Few realize that during World War Two, on a percentage basis, more merchant mariners lost their lives as the result of enemy action than any "military" service except for the Marine Corps.
During periods of peace, the merchant marine is predominantly a profit-oriented civilian business activity in competition with the merchant fleets of other nations. And here is where a problem presents itself. Due to America's relatively high living and wage standards, the American merchant marine operates at a competitive disadvantage as a business enterprise in international trade. For this reason, during peace time (as in war), American flag ships require government subsidies in order to remain competitive. But these days such subsidies are attacked as being protectionist, or flagrant examples of "corporate welfare." Thus, when peace prevails, the view that the free market should rule the merchant marine, just like other businesses, gains acceptance. The reasoning becomes, if an American flag fleet can't make it without government help, it shouldn't make it at all.
This view, however, is both short-sighted and seriously flawed from an economics standpoint. First, it discounts the value of maintaining a strong, U.S. owned and American manned, working merchant fleet as a national security asset, just as we keep the military services in a state of readiness. Few people seem to realize that without viable merchant marine back-up capability, our military readiness cannot be what it seems. Secondly, it fails to take into account the huge cost of our trade with the rest of the world. With a viable merchant marine that carried about half of our ocean-borne commerce, half of that cost would be returned to Americans and American businesses, and thus contribute to a strong American economy. Without a viable fleet, that huge cost becomes a net loss to the nation, weakening the economy and contributing significantly to our balance of payments and trade deficit.
With the rise of the global economy, ocean commerce is more important than at any time in history, but less and less of our ocean-borne commerce is carried in American ships. American ships may be more expensive to operate than most foreign ships, because American regulatory standards, taxation, and wages are higher, but that cost is a credit rather than a debit to the nation. It provides income to the nation rather than to the foreign competition.
This is why merchant marine subsidizes make good economic sense even though they may seem to go against free market principles. Why use American ships, if they can't be cost competitive without help? Besides the obvious reason of preserving an American fleet in case of war (which is always discounted during extended periods of peace), the economic equation, if realistically examined, speaks for itself.
What economists and policy-makers seem to miss, or refuse to see, is this: If a nation does not carry about a half of its ocean-borne commerce in its own ships, its economy gets short-changed on literally every trade-item, whether imported or exported. When the huge volume of our current foreign trade is considered, the importance of this should become obvious. It must be remembered that trade does not add value to products traded, it adds shipping costs. If a nation is not positioned to get its share of the freight, its economy is short-changed.
Currently, American ships carry less than two percent of our nation's trade. This means that more than 98% of every freight dollar, (the cost of shipping both imports and exports) goes directly to the foreign competition. Given the volume of that trade (worth about $1.5 trillion in 1997), this is a significant drain on the economy. For this reason, merchant marine subsidies have never really cost the nation anything, but rather benefited the nation economically both directly and indirectly. Subsidies, plus industry profits, are returned to the American economy, contributing to the general welfare and prosperity of the nation. A large and healthy merchant marine not only supports the seamen, their families, and their corporate employers, but a vast array of related domestic industries, from steelmills and shipyards to the thousands of smaller manufacturers and service industries that supply and support them. (But try to get representatives like senator Grassley of Iowa to see this!)
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THE INTERNATIONALIZATION OF BUSINESS
Incredibly, many of our remaining American flag ships are owned by foreign corporations, and most remaining "American" shipowning corporations have internationalized to the degree that they are essentially American in name and former association only. The name of the global economic game is to get out from under American tax and regulatory jurisdiction -- and the necessity of employing American labor. Our own government free trade policy not only makes this perversity possible, but extraordinarily attractive. The cost to the American economy has been devastating, yet the trend is accelerating with official government encouragement -- often with government financial assistance! While we are curtailing subsidies to American industries in the name of free trade and free markets, we continue to subsidize the foreign competition in innumerable ways. Besides our several foreign aid programs, and our global "free trade" initiatives, our navy defends the world's shipping lanes upon which our national flag has almost totally disappeared.
IF BIG GOVERNMENT IS BAD, THEN WHAT IS WORLD GOVERNMENT?
Conspiracy theorists have long and continuously warned that the coming new world order will spell loss of national sovereignty, and bring about global government. Proponents, defenders, and apologists for the United Nations and the new global economic order, while steadfastly denying that world government is contemplated, nonetheless, just as steadfastly, proclaim that the era of the nation-state is at an end. So what is replacing the nation-state but a "world-state" under the UN's WTO, IMO, and other regulatory regimes? Our traditional national governments are increasingly living on in the capacity of Big Brother (federal police powers), but the really big Big Daddy is becoming the extra-national United Nations.
Most people won't recognize the encroaching tyranny until they've already eagery agreed to don their leg-irons as a safety measure against falling overboard. Most level-headed Americans, (most of whom approve of president Clinton's job-performance) pooh-pooh the notion of an international conspiracy to institute world government. They don't in the least seem to grasp what the new world order, (which president Bush announced) is all about. They seem to assume that if it isn't as wonderful as stated, at least it's an inevitable and unstoppable development. Perhaps so. But few ever ponder the processes by which this international steam-roller is coming about -- much less ever wonder why they never got to vote on it. The conventional mythology is still that the United Nations, having been "made in America," is somehow just the handle by which the United States controls the world -- and it indeed appears to work that way some of the time. Few Americans can imagine our representatives totally giving up our national sovereignty to unelected, and unaccountable global bureaucrats -- so most simply don't worry about it. And besides -- what could they do about it anyway?
The sad fact is, our so-called representatives have been handing our national sovereignty away piece-meal since the United Nations was formed. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the process has been much accelerated through the process known as "Fast-Track" trade policy and in the name of "free trade" and "saving the global environment." At the same time, domestic criminal laws have become ever-more federalized and draconian.
Loss of national sovereignty is part and parcel of the currently unfolding process of the globalization of business and markets. It has been sold to our representatives and the people under various attractive sounding euphemisms, such as deregulation, free trade, free markets, and global cooperation. NAFTA, GATT, and the WTO, all entailed a considerable loss of national sovereignty -- ostensibly on behalf of free international trade, but actually on behalf of large transnational corporations and global financiers in furtherance of internationalist goals, (i.e., securing perpetual profits).
All international trade agreements, of course, make the case for the necessity of increased international regulation and control by various global regulatory agencies. These agencies, of course, are always abundantly forthcoming, forever expanding the role of the United Nations in our national life. Nations, of course, are being urged to "deregulate", "privatize", "open their markets", and "liberalize immigration laws" -- as we have done. Thus they are snared into giving up their regulatory powers, (which, of course, are manifestations of national sovereignty) and turning them over to the international regulatory agencies under the United Nations. If this isn't global government in the making, I wouldn't know what is.
Loosely connected to the United Nations, and mutually supporting, are the Bank for International Settlements, the World Bank, and the International Monetary fund. Since the world has become an interdependent global market, the IMF must ride herd over it. The IMF, of course, is nothing less than the free-ranging agent of the global "money power." (The money power, coincidentally, being one of the ever-present gremlins in conspiracy theory.) Its raw and ruthless powers are now laid bare for all to see -- especially in such nations as South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Africa, and Latin America. When the IMF rides to the rescue of a nation in economic distress, (like a global knight in shining armor) there is no longer any doubt, on the part of the rescued, from whence global power truly emanates.
The kind of global government which is engulfing the world is unlike any government we have before witnessed in the history of nations. This is why it is so difficult for so many to come to grips with. What we are increasingly seeing is the rising international hegemony of capital. The power of corporate capital is superseding that of the state. What this effectively means is that the new global state is a corporate affair wherein true power lies in the hands of a few interlocking global corporations loosely united and controlled by international financial interests. The role of the traditional nation-state is changing to that of little more than the local "police power." The new role of the state is to protect the interests of capital within its borders, and to produce good and docile corporate citizens.
A "CULTURE OF COMPLIANCE"
One of the stated goals of ISM training that American and other seamen are now being subjected to is the establishment, on a global basis, of a "culture of compliance" to the ISM and STCW Codes. In other words, docile and compliant global "subjects" -- subdued corporate citizenship. A culture of compliance was the historic ideal sought by kings and tyrants of their subjects. It was the ideal sought by plantation owners of their slaves. It is the ideal sought by corporations of their employees. Dictators traditionally demand a culture of compliance of their subjects.
Of course all nations, societies, and organizations must have a set of governing rules -- but when the regulatory authority becomes global in scope, a critical threashold has been reached and surpassed which threatens arbitrary dictitorial rule on a scale never before attempted.
Perhaps the populations of Europe, Latin America, and Asia are accustomed to authoritive and arbitrary rule, but the United States of America was founded upon totally different principles. Have the principles upon which the American government was established finally been relegated to the dust-bin of history? Is limited government, by consent of the governed, finally overturned in what was once called "the land of the free and home of the brave?" Has government of the people, by the people, and for the people finally perished from the earth? So it would seem, and there seems to be very little concern with the sweeping nature of the change and its long-term implications.
Seamen, in any case, have little voice, and less choice. They must become compliant participants of the new international government, or seek another career-calling. They have no champions to fight the juggernaught in Congress or elsewhere. Congress has sold them out, and their unions are powerless. Mere survival seems contingent upon joining the enemy. This, in turn, becomes more than just a camel's head in the tent door. The humps and hooves are in too, and it bodes ill for all the rest of the occupants of the tent. The maritime community comes under foreign regulatory domination today, the entire nation tomorrow.
United Nations agencies have already become the acknowledged international regulatory agencies, and the UN a nominal global deliberative governing body. Uniform standards, such as STCW and ISM, are being imposed to accommodate global capital interests in the guise of safety and protection of the environment. NATO, with the United States providing its primary muscle, has emerged as the military enforcement arm of these same capital interests (as is currently being demonstrated in Iraq and Yugoslavia).
The United States remains the only single nation powerful enough to significantly, and peacefully, influence the course of global events. However, this status won't last indefinitely. Our representatives have chosen to repudiate our national position, and our national advantage, and move us, post-haste, into the new economic order -- which (if it goes as apparently planned), will eventually eclipse our nation's ability to positively influence future global events. Finally, it will eclipse our ability to be masters of our own national destiny. Our moral position in the world already stands considerably compromised, as we increasingly resort of bombs and missiles to make our viewpoints come clear and dispense our new brand of "saving grace." We are opting to influence events by being "Big and Bad" rather than "Big and Good." Meanwhile, our Congress has already seen fit to allow the United Nations to take over some of our most important domestic regulatory affairs that directly impinge upon the lives and livelihoods of American citizens.
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GETTING YOUR LICENSE FROM THE UN
It's true that we don't yet have to get our domestic drivers' licenses from an agency of the United Nations -- but give it a little time. Only three or four years ago few American seamen would have imagined they would soon be required to receive their "right to work" from a United Nations agency. But that's exactly what has happened. American merchant mariners documents and licenses, issued by the United States Coast Guard, are no longer any good, unless validated by a UN agency. It is now the STCW certificate, not the American documents, that count.
SHAPE UP OR... QUIT SHIPPING, IS THE MESSAGE
The globalization and free trade processes had already pretty much sunk the American flag merchant marine long before the STCW and ISM requirements crashed down about the heads and shoulders of American mariners. Since the government itself has effectively abandoned the U.S. flag merchant fleet, (except for a skeleton fleet of 47 ships which remain subsidized under the recent Maritime Security Act) it makes no business sense whatsoever for American companies to operate American flag ships. Flag of convenience ships, manned by Third World seamen, are much more cost competitive. We like to kid ourselves that this isn't true -- that American innovations still make American labor more productive, and thus more cost-competitive, than our foreign counterparts. This is true only to the extent that American innovations continue to eliminate American jobs. Indeed, the American innovation of containerization put a lot of seamen and longshoremen out of work. Technically, the crewless merchant ship is also feasible, and it would be the epitome of commercial maritime efficiency.
Most of our ships and sea-going jobs have simply disappeared over the last three decades. Most old-line American shipping companies have either gone bankrupt, become part of multi-national conglomerates, or have been purchased by foreign companies. While the few remaining ships have become larger, manning scales have decreased. While their work-loads, responsibilities, and liabilities have increased, American mariners have been rewarded with large pay cuts. Then STCW and ISM came along, adding insult to injury. It's sort of like seamen are being kicked while they are down. And they are being kicked. As their job becomes more demanding and difficult, all kinds of hurdles and hoops are continually placed in front of them, in the form of revised STCW codes and new training requirements. It isn't a pretty story at all. What makes it all the worse is that it is only part of a much larger picture of our own government betraying its people on behalf of international capital interests.
THE RATIONALE FOR ACCEPTANCE
Unfortunately, a complacent, well-fed, public always seems ready and willing to give up a few piddling rights and freedoms in exchange for a little additional security. In this manner rights are sacrificed upon such holy altars as: "The greater public good"; "Public health"; "Public safety"; "Protection of the Environment"; "the need for enforceable international standards" and a thousand and one other good and reasonable causes. The progression, however, by slow and steady increments, leads as certainly toward slavery as night follows the day. Creeping tyranny, in its early stages, is never very apparent. Often it seems reasonable or even attractive. Tyranny only becomes apparent to the masses after their leg-irons (once rather comforting), are tightly locked.
Of course, the rationale for giving up sovereign rights in maritime affairs is this: WE, in cooperation with all other "responsible" maritime nations, want to impose our maritime safety and environmental standards on all other nations of the world -- particularly upon Third World "flag of convenience" states. In order to do this, WE must set international standards, and give regulatory control to the international authorities WE allegedly created, (i.e. the UN and the IMO). If WE would expect all other nations to comply, however, WE have to submit to the same standards and extra-national authorities WE would impose on THEM.
No problem, many Americans seem to say. Since WE got the ball rolling in the first place, WE have effectively bent the world to our will. Right? This may all sound fine and dandy, so far. But in the process, WE have given up our own right to self-determination. Hereafter, WE no longer set the standards -- a distant, THEY do. From now on, THEY pull the strings and WE have to jump.
Having got the ball rolling, and having helped set the international standards -- and having given up our sovereign rights in matters maritime -- here comes a rush of even more strict and oppressive regulatory requirements. Since we have now officially given up our sovereign rights, we no longer have the right to object, alter, or ignore the new requirements.
All of a sudden the bar is raised so high that the industry is overwhelmed by new requirements which will cost tremendous amounts of money, and totally transform the way maritime affairs and shipping companies operate. And literally all "responsible" authorities and "experts" echo the words of Voltaire's professor Pangloss: "Everything happens for the best."
The fact is, the United States already had high professional standards for merchant marine personnel, and the safety record of American ships have historically been the highest in the world. Why weren't we satisfied?
Now, (seemingly out of a blue sky) literally nothing we did or had before is adequate. Not training standards and requirements; not merchant marine documentation; not merchant marine licensing; not ship management -- literally nothing! And the International Maritime Organization -- not any U.S. agency or authority -- is setting the standards and calling the shots! And we're caught in a quagmire of our own making, marching to the tune of foreign drummers.
All at once, the bar of professionalism has been raised so high that long-experienced American mariners literally have to go back to school -- not only because of new specialized requirements, but to learn the basics. This, in order to merely retain their jobs, and maintain the same professional status they had before. American documentation and licenses; previous training; and long experience in the industry no longer count for anything, (though American mariners still have to meet all the old requirements!). What counts now is meeting "professional standards" set by distant, unelected, and unaccountable international bureaucrats.
What American mariner today has not already found himself "jumping to the tune" of the IMO's STCW and ISM codes? And when they say jump, all we can say is, "How high?" Yet we hear many of our shipmates echoing the internaitonalists' party line saying, "Well, its really all a good thing after all."
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WHAT IT'S REALLY ABOUT
The original idea was allegedly to force marginal operators, whose ships and personnel were subject to either low or no standards of professionalism, (and thus were considered a hazard on the high seas) either to shape up or go out of business. The real purpose, in my opinion, is two-fold. (1) To bring the maritime industry in line with the concept of world government, and (2) to drive all small and marginal ship owners and companies, (regardless of flag, past safety record, or professional standards) off the high seas -- leaving only the largest multi-national corporations in command of all international shipping.
This is why the big boys have been strangely acquiescent to these expensive changes in the playing rules for their industry. Only the largest shipping companies will be capable of insuring compliance with the new ISM and STCW standards.
In order to become more competitive, all American and European companies have been doing two things: (1) Out-flagging to flags of convenience, mainly to take advantage of cheap Third World wages, and to escape strict regulations and high taxation, and (2) On their few remaining home-flag vessels -- by eagerly cutting both manning and wage scales (and instituting "second registries" where foreign labor can be used). All of these measures have demonstrably adversely impacted maritime safety. The trend has been toward ever-larger ships, manned by fewer and fewer crew members, at lower and lower wages. This has also meant more and more large ships in the hands of incompetent and poorly trained personnel. The net effect has been more and more, bigger and bigger, maritime disasters waiting to happen. This, in turn, has made the case for more "strict and mandatory international standards and regulations with enforcement teeth."
Ironically, shipowners, while continuing to cut crew size and wages in the name of economy and competitiveness, are now obliged to form, or hire, entire "ship management" teams, departments, or companies, to bring their ships into ISM compliance and keep them there. This whole new layer of shore-side management personnel doesn't come cheap, and while big corporations are proceeding, not only willingly, but apparently eagerly, with their ISM management teams, many small operators simply cannot afford such luxuries.
The new STCW code mandates an unbelievable amount of specialized formal training for mariners. The day of the self-made professional mariner is over. The cost burden will have to be borne by the shipping companies, (and undoubtedly also the taxpaying public). In addition to placing a large additional financial burden on shipping companies, it places a huge burden on the individual mariners who now must periodically return to school to satisfy IMO-STCW requirements, on their own time and often at their own expense.
Because our Congress didn't cave in and sign onto the STCW convention until 1991, American mariners were blind-sided when they learned of the new requirements. Then the STCW code was revised in 1995, with draconian new requirements. American mariners have been very hard-pressed to comply before the February 1999 deadline. Further deadlines are set for 2002, and many experienced mariners will be weeded out of the industry prior to that date.
Speaking of being "blind-sided," it is well to note that this has been a long-established tactic and means by which government tyranny is imposed on an unsuspecting population. Rather that being put to popular vote, unpopular policy is presented to the public as a "done deal" without apparent recourse or appeal, because the dictating "authorities" are beyond reach.
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Struggling maritime unions, who would ordinarily have been expected to sound the alarm bells and stand up in protest on behalf of their members in the face of this bureaucratic onslaught, have been relatively silent. Not only are weakened unions pretty powerless (especially when their national government itself turns regulatory matters over to international bodies, and otherwise totally rearranges the labor landscape), most operate schools and training facilities which will benefit from the additional training requirements. In some instances, these training facilities are eclipsing the "membership" itself as revenue generators. Some are being expanded to serve the increasing training needs of other segments of the maritime industry, including government and other non-union, (even foreign) personnel. Unions find themselves in the ironic position of becoming part of the problem by providing necessary and internationally mandated solutions (solutions which cater to the will of the natural enemies of organized labor and national sovereignty!).
American unions, in their weakened positions, have felt it necessary to affiliate with the International Transport Workers' Union, in hopes that solidarity with the "other maritime workers of the world" will somehow save them. The sad truth is that the handwriting is on the wall -- if the American mariner is to survive in any numbers, it will eventually have to be on foreign flag ships in direct wage competition with third world seamen. This, of course, is a no-win situation for American and Western European seafarers, but American unions find themselves in the ironic position of having to "unite" with with their weaker international counterparts in order to find "strength" in numbers.
Few can argue against the need for international standards for the maritime industry. But maritime nations have been cooperating on such things for well over a century. Few would argue that raising standards of professionalism in the industry is a bad thing. However, we are not talking about a level playing field here. STCW and ISM certification will not be conducted to uniformly stringent standards all over the world. Perhaps the Coast Guard and many of its counterparts in other nations will enforce the standards fairly to the best of their abilities. But what about all the Third World nations? If history and experience indicate anything, a world of corruption will reign. In any case, nobody and no massed group of agencies will ever be fully up to the task of enforcing the new requirements. Perhaps many fly-by-night operations will be forced out of business, but many honest people and small companies will be crushed in the process of trying to make a seriously flawed and unmanageable system work. In the end, each state enforcement authority, (rather than looking to their own national interests) will be doing the bidding of the United Nations on behalf of the largest multi-national corporate shipowners.
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CORRUPTION INCREASES WITH THE SIZE OF GOVERNMENT
(Redefining "Crooked as a barrel of fish hooks.")
One of the foundations of American government was that government should be small, and thus both manageable and answerable to the people. The Constitution gave the central government regulatory control over the matters of foreign trade and commerce. A nation such as ours can, and should, effectively regulate its own merchant marine -- as a matter of national security and economic self-interest. We could, and did, in the past.
Everybody knows, (but most seem to forget) --  that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely;  Authority by committee is ineffective. Any large government, or government agency, with the power to regulate, also has the power to destroy. Any government agency unavoidably harbors the seeds of corruption. Under representative government, when such corruption is exposed, the people, through their representatives, can address and correct it.
The United Nations is the world's biggest committee. As an international debating society, the UN makes a great deal of sense. On the other hand, as a world government, it must unavoidably evolve into an agency of global corruption and ultimate tyranny. Indeed, it has already come a long way in that direction. The United Nations, (despite valuable functions it may serve) is, by its very nature and scope of its purposes and undertakings, the largest, and most corrupt body on the face of the earth. Authority is conveyed to it, not by any voting public, but by governments, (few of which ever put such matters to the vote of their own people, and many of which are themselves the very epitome of corruption).
The International Maritime Organization, as a benign global mediator on maritime affairs, served the common interests of all involved. As a global authority that generates binding international standards and regulations, however, it cannot escape becoming an agency of corruption and tyranny. For a nation such as the United States to relinquish any of its sovereign national powers to such a body, ought to be unthinkable. Any public representative voting for such a thing, must be viewed as either incredibly incompetent or down-right traitorous and anti-American.
The ISM and STCW codes may have had Coast Guard and Congressional input, but, from now on, neither the Coast Guard nor the Maritime Administrartion or any American representative have the authority to alter them. Nor do they even have the "right" to allow them to be violated without being in violation of international law. Of course, the United States (so far) can, and often does, violate international law whenever it suits either the president's purposes or the interests of American corporate capital -- but, (and note this) it will never do so in the interests of the people themselves.
ENFORCEMENT AS A WEAPON FOR PETTY DESPOTS
With regard to enforcement of ISM and STCW standards world-wide, corruption is bound to play a (if not the) major role. While many maritime nations may honestly try to enforce them, they will do so mainly and most effectively "against their own flag ships and mariners," and be slack on most others. Otherwise, if foreign shipping is regularly disrupted, international diplomatic disputes would frequently result and the orderly flow of commerce too frequently interrupted.
ISM and STCW inspections and enforcement will undoubtedly be used by some authorities as attack weapons against certain other flag ships and company vessels. To put it quite simply -- that is the nature of business where such opportunities are given rise. The inspection and enforcement authority will be used to selectively "attack and counter-attack." Enforcement in country A, against a ship owned by country B, will invite retaliation against country A's ships when they call in country B.
Anything like a comprehensive inspection itself, (which may include time-consuming fire and abandon ship drills, etc., not to mention actually putting the vessel out of service for lengthy periods of time) will be experienced and viewed as unwarranted "harassment." If costly delays are caused, they will certainly invite retaliation in kind. In short, the new system is bound to open broad corridors of international corruption on a scale never before seen.
Many corrupt State and Port authorities, of course, can be expected to accept bribes in order to "pass" noncompliant vessels through their ports. As always, money speaks. Delaying a large container ship for a day may cost a company $50,000.00 or more. Many inspecting authorities would gladly accept a fraction of that amount to grease the wheels of commerce. Such practices certainly won't be rare. In fact, it could not reasonably be expected to be any other way. Additionally, training course standards and certification will be enforced in some nations and not others. This is already perceived as a big problem. Yet there is no effective means by which to deal with it. Undoubtedly international crime syndicates, dedicated to satisfying ISM and STCW documentation and certification, will develop. Much will be accomplished through the expediencies of "forgery," "falsification," and "shell" training centers. Of course, this has already manifested itself as a serious concern, but can never be effectively addressed. This, among other things, tends to put honest seamen, from strictly regulated countries, at a considerable disadvantage.
Naturally, these problems will beg ever-more draconian solutions. This constitutes the "natural metabolism" of big government.
One solution will undoubtedly be that the taxpayers in developed nations will eventually be coerced into paying the bill for training Third World seafarers -- the seamen who have already displaced their own citizen seamen from the high seas.
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Speaking of taxpayers...
THE OVERWORKED COAST GUARD - TAXPAYERS BEWARE!
The supposedly already over-worked, under-staffed, and under-funded, United States Coast Guard will be our domestic ISM enforcement agency, frequenting ships like gang-busters, conducting inspections and shipboard drills as never before -- holding up ships, foreign and domestic, interfering with cargo operations, and generally making a perennial nuisance of themselves. How long will that last? Forever, we're told. Were they really over-worked, under-staffed, and under-funded before STCW and ISM doubled or tripled their work-load? If so, they'll certainly need a considerable shot in the arm from the nation's already restive taxpayers.
In spite of the fact that STCW certification already takes precedence over national licensing and documentation in international trade, all the old requirements remain in place. The Coast Guard has traditionally been abysmally slow in upgrading its examinations to include new technologies long in common use at sea. Rather than up-grade their own examinations, they have merely added "formal training" requirements for required license endorsements such as "radar observer," and now "GMDSS." This was presumably because they lacked the manpower resources to stay on top of industry changes and up-grade their examinations.
Because the Coast Guard has been under-funded, exorbitant "user fees" have been initiated in many areas, including documentation and licensing. The struggling sailor or license candidate now has to come up with cold, hard, cash to purchase his right to a livelihood -- and he is hit up at least once every five years. Formerly, documented seamen were seamen for life and there was no charge for either documentation or licensing.
One way that the Coast Guard is coping with the hugely increased work-load is by "farming out" some of its functions to other agencies such as the American Bureau of Shipping. While this may take some pressure off of the Coast Guard, it does little, if anything, to mitigate the additional costs involved, and will probably even increase them.
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THE OLD POLITICAL BUCK-PASSING GAME
Where does the buck stop?
This whole can of worms was born of "good intentions," of course. The actual ISM and STCW codes are about standards and accountability, and there is abundant sound logic behind all of it. So much so, in fact, that all protest seems to have been effectively muzzled. Even the most harried ship's officer is likely to concede that the check-off lists "at least help maintain awareness of job requirements and prevent oversights." But in practice, all massive boondoggles, no matter how well intended and thought out, eventually become perversions of original intent.
At best, compliance and enforcement will be spotty and fitful, and largerly ineffective in the long run. That, simply stated, is the nature of all political beasts -- and this is very much a political beast.
Supposedly, one of the primary intents of the ISM code is to make sure that shoreside corporate managers can be held to account for the failings of their ships at sea -- to make them legally liable, for example, for an oil-spill caused by a third engineer manning an oil transfer pump or valve on a ship in Wayback, Egypt or the south Indian Ocean. The buck, so the intents would imply, is automatically passed up, so to speak, to the marine operations desk, the company vice-presidents, and CEO, etc. They now become liable and accountable also.
But wait, knowing of this possibility in advance, the CEO, company vice presidents, operations desk, and the ISM code itself, have placed whole new layers of insulating bureaucracy between themselves and their ships. These corporate buffers are known as "ship managers." In some cases these are whole new corporations (and corporate owners or charterers), placed between the parent company and their vessels. Their job is to make sure ships and shipboard personnel are in ISM compliance and that checklists get checked off and signed -- to help shelter the corporate managers from some legal liability. When push comes to shove, as always, a considerable amount of legal maneuvering occurs. In the end, it will be like the buck that stopped at Janet Reno in the wake of the Waco Branch Dividians disaster. The Branch Dividians and some federal agents died, Ms. Reno accepted ultimate responsibility, and... Well, that was the end of that. The buck stopped and didn't budge after that. But most of the Branch Dividians are still dead.
Shipowners aren't noted for being totally stupid. When it comes to matters of liability, many long ago devised creative ways and means by which to limit their exposure. Perhaps most important is to make sure that the parent company is insulated from its working assets by multiple corporate layers. The creative potential of this approach is much enhanced since the advent of globalization. The ability for an American or Danish parent company to own a Panamanian company, which in turn can own an American company that qualifies as an American citizen, gives a hint as to how creative and legally confusing things can quite legally be made. If a company owns several ships, each ship is likely to be owned by an individual corporation created for that purpose alone, and the ship itself, of course, is mortgaged to another corporation. Likely at key points there appears to be no corporate connection between the ships and the real owners when liability suits arise against individual vessels. Of course the operator of the vessel and the owner are usually quite distinct corporate entities, since the ship is likely only chartered to the operator. The liable party may be the charterer who is legally viewed as the operator and thus the liable owner of the vessel. The idea that the ISM codes are going to make top management more accountable becomes smoke and mirror deception. The liable parties, if they can be determined at all, will be lower level, and thus expendable, corporate entities. Of course this system of liability protection favors the larger companies that can afford the most creative legal staff.
Many old-line American steamship companies, having been founded during somewhat more honest times, did not avail themselves of these deceptive practices. There was a time when honest business was not only possible, but profitable. They suffered accordingly, as the age of rampant litigation crept upon them and liability cases began to take their toll. In fact, government regulation, while encumbering ship owners in many expensive and needless ways, played an important role in keeping corporations honest. All of that, of course, has been thrown out the window -- both the baby and the bath water.
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ISM EFFECTIVELY REQUIRES MARINERS TO SIGN
IN ADVANCE OF MISHAPS -- IN THE FORM OF "CHECK-OF LISTS"
The hapless third engineer, who maybe actually caused an oil spill, has been required to sign his name to the bottom of a check-off list which makes it possible for corporate headquarters to bounce the buck directly back down to him. He is demonstrably responsible (as he had always been) for his mistake. Having signed the check-off form, he has already obligingly signed an effective confession of guilt in advance of the act, (i.e., he may have claimed to have checked something that obviously wasn't properly checked). Remember, "Anything you sign can, and will, be used against you."
The third engineer (as has always been the case), may lose his job and his license, and/or he may be fined or imprisoned, along with the chief engineer and master. The vessel and/or the company may be fined, and the company will have to pay that fine even if it was the third engineer's fault. (The company doesn't pay the third engineer enough to pay the fine.) No CEO will be sacked, though he may accept full responsibility after making sure the captain has fired the third engineer. (But small companies will be forced either into the hungry jaws of larger corporate competitors, or out of business.)
So, what is new in this? Nothing at all, except for all the additional preparation and training; the stacks of paper; the extra legal wrangling; and the number of national and international agencies and bureaucrats involved. All of this, naturally, translates into considerable extra cost, (most of which is hidden from view in the form of wages to innumerable company, national, and international bureaucrats).
Oh! I almost forget what else is new -- direct and indirect UN-IMO regulatory control over U.S. citizens on their own ships!
I write not only as an concerned American, but an increasingly disgusted American mariner of some thirty years standing. Those long years of experience no longer qualify me to pursue my career calling. Experience is no longer a worthy qualification. Learning job-skills on the job is no longer considered admissible. Nor is self-study. The day of the self-made sea-going professional, who studies hard and claws his way up through the hawsepipe after years of experience, is over. Nor is an American merchant marine officer's license any longer sufficient evidence of professional competence. I expect the Coast Guard exams themselves will eventually be scrapped in favor of strictly "formal training" followed by exams supplied by IMO appointed agents.
Several times already, during my vacation time, I've had to make an almost two thousand mile round trip to take courses that were never before required. Some of the required courses made some sense -- some didn't. Some must be taken every five years, no matter how basic or irrelevant. Most courses are of a week's duration, but some require two weeks or more. Most that I've already taken have been largely irrelevant, covering material I either already knew well, or equipment I never have to deal with. (All have been of the "nice to have" variety, of course -- and it's nice to have them out there and available.) But in spite of numerous attractive certificates of training I now possess, (I could cover a small wall with them!) I continue to find that I'm not yet qualified to do my job -- the job I've been doing for thirty years! I lack such basic skills and courses as "Bridge Resource Management," "Basic Safety Training," and "GMDSS" (Global Marine Distress and Safety System [though I studied for, took, and passed the FCC test, the Coast Guard says that isn't good enough, no matter how much actual experience I may have with the equipment!]). "Sensitivity Training" and "Sexual Harassment" courses, or "Social Responsibility," are also required!
I still find it difficult to believe I'm writing about reality here -- in the merchant marine of what was once billed as the land of the free and home of the brave!
Last year (1998), I made my first voyage under the new ISM "ship management" system. (Full compliance for cargo ships isn't required until the year 2002, but the controlling mechanisms are being put into place. Ships and personnel have to start shaping up, or... quit shipping out. The latter option is looking increasingly attractive to more and more mariners.) During the coastal leg of the voyage a ship management system (SMS) "auditor" rode along to audit our compliance with ISM and "break us in" to the new system. The main control mechanism for ISM compliance is a huge book codifying every detail of every job done by every crew position on board. It provides numerous check-off forms to standardize and govern all routine job procedures. For example, procedures for the mate relieving the bridge watch, and for testing navigation gear prior to entering or leaving port, now have standard check-off lists like those used by air-line pilots and ground crews. Then there is the STCW time-sheet that must be kept to prove that all crew members receive the internationally prescribed amount of rest each day. There are checkoff lists for literally everything -- dozens of them -- and there will undoubtedly be many more as time goes on!
Now these are effectively the dictates of the United Nations' International Maritime Organization we are talking about here -- on American flag vessels! Not the U.S. Coast Guard, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Commerce Secretary. This is the way it is going to be, we are told, on every ship in the world over 500 gross tons that engages in foreign trade -- whether we, or anybody else, like it or not. It's a "done deal." Apparently God has spoken.
From a strictly personal perspective, all of these new developments spur me toward the earliest possible retirement. Training and paper requirements are increasing to the point of being both overwhelming and oppressive. Jobs, opportunities for advancement, wages, and quality of life at sea, are in sharp decline, while responsibilities, working hours, work-load, and the threat of personal liability, continue to increase dramatically. I'm sure I'm not alone in taking a dim view of present trends, as the following quote from an industry technical journal attests:
"Captain Joseph Jablonski, recently retired from APL, Ltd., described the 'tremedous amount of paper work' and 'extra shelves' required on ships to document safety procedures and then hold the additional safety manuals. Looking back on his own experience, Capt. Jablonski cautioned writers of Code manuals not to 'box in' their officers and ships with too much detailed documentation.
"'What ever you write down may be used against you,' he warned.
"Jablonski also confided that the new regulations, their complexity and the increased workload they generate, may begin to steer some mariners away from a career at sea, especially older officers who have learned the trade through experience rather than textbook." (from "Marine Safety: Global Concerns," by Jim Shaw)
In fact, the message being perceived by many of us older mariners is exactly this: "Leave the field to the properly indoctrinated. Shape up, (sign and agree with everything you're told to) or quit shipping!"
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JOB COMPETENCE REALLY SECONDARY TO PAPER REQUIREMENTS
Will all the new training, and this system of check-off lists, and periodical auditing, really result in increased ship safety? Well, the American merchant marine has had a pretty good safety record anyway. It's hard to imagine it getting much better. If it does get better, the improvements can be only marginal at best, and difficult to detect over the short-haul. Check-off lists don't make for more competent watchstanders, but they do require some time and effort to fill out. In the end, these paper requirements may supercede professional job competency itself as the "essence" of the job -- IF THE PAPER REQUIREMENTS HAVE BEEN MET, THAT'S WHAT REALLY COUNTS IN THE EYES OF THE AUTHORITIES. The proper filling out of innumerable forms may, at least to some extent, replace the job itself as the "substance" of the ISM requirements. All the forms and check-off lists can easily be falsified, of course, and knowing human nature, I suspect that will frequently be the case.
Checking off such things as "Have you adjusted your eyes to the dark?" when relieving the watch sometimes seems a little silly. Who is asking me this dumb question and distracting me from my work anyway? Effectively, nothing less than the United Nations itself. Pretty impressive!
The ship I last sailed on was fitted with new IMO required GMDSS equipment, though we still carried the radio officer the equipment is intended to replace. During that three month voyage, the GMDSS equipment, (a weather fax, a computer radio and satellite receiver, each with printers, and a little device called a NavTex) spewed forth, upon the deck, great masses of paper, printed with data received via satellite and radio. Talk about information overload -- not to mention distractions from the business of navigation! I've never seen such a waste of good paper! Maybe less than one percent of it was relevant, and the rest so much unnecessary waste to be used as ocean filler.
High on the UN-IMO agenda, of course, is supposedly concern for the protection of the marine environment -- but if every ship in the world is to be fitted with similar equipment, woe unto the ocean and rain forest ecosystems! Most of the major oceans will be filled with the products of the world's dwindling forests by the mid-twenty-first century, if not before. Add to this all the reams of check-off used lists and the cost to the ocean ecosystems will be incalculable. The alternate, and most probable action on most ships, will be to keep the printers turned off most of the time. As for actually reading all the data -- forget it -- there simply isn't enough time. After all, there's a ship to navigate, and that has to take priority. That's the way things usually work.
HAVEN'T WE SEEN THIS BUREAUCRATIC ONSLAUGHT BEFORE?
With the advent of ISM, we see large, company-specific, Safety Management System (SMS) manuals appearing aboard ship, and scores of new forms to fill out on board ship. Most of us who have been going to sea for several decades have seen similar things before. There was a time when the large main-line steamship companies, with large fleets, attempted to micro-manage their ships with their own corporate versions of SMS manuals and dozens of specialized company forms to be filled out and filed aboard or sent in to the office. Many of those company proceedural manuals, and the proceedures they mandated, rivaled the ISM Code and new SMS system for complexity and detail.
This happened at a time when companies were enjoying a period of prosperity which resulted in inflated corporate management staffs ashore. They fulfilled the function that the new "ship management" teams and corporations are now attempting to fulfill. Whole corporate departments functioned like government bureaucracies formulating company policy and manufacturing paperwork requirements, in an attempt to both justify their own jobs and micro-manage all shipboard activities. In many companies, this mission evolved to a fine art. But the usual course of events was one of initial great effort to institute a corporate culture of compliance, followed by a long period of return to a practical working level of bureaucratic paper shuffling.
In those days there were pursers and radio officers to assist with the large amount of shipboard paper-work that always remained. Chief mates, being non-watch standers, could also help without compromising the safety of the ship at sea. Since those days, most old-line companies have gone bankrupt, and the rest have downsized.
Nobody ever questioned ship owners' right and authority to attempt to micro-manage their ships. Nor did many question reasonable levels of government regulation in the interests of safety. But, over time, practical considerations always defeated attempts to codify every shipboard activity and require umpteen dozen forms to be filled out.
Now the IMO is doing the same thing. The thick Code and Procedure manuals are being placed on every ship in the world, we are told. The companies, along with the Coast Guard and its foreign counterparts, are becoming enforcement agents for the ISM and STCW. The difference now is that henseforth there will be a growing entrenched international bureaucracy of thousands of bureaucrats, in dozens of agencies, laboring to justify their jobs -- all expecting to create and enforce a culture of compliance upon the all the shipping companies and mariners of the world.
Yes, we've seen it before, but not on this scale. All I can say is, "Good luck!"
We are entering into a the Brave New World in which every detail of our daily professional lives and activities is being codified into international law, and a global "culture of compliance" is expected of every seaman and every citizen of the world. This isn't futuristic fantacy. This is here and now reality! But when any volume of law becomes so extensive that it is impossible to comprehend its extent, much less all of its ramifications, it becomes impossible for the normally lawabiding individual to stretch his respect over the whole lot of it. When respect for law is stretched thin enough, it eventually reaches the point of non-existance. In such case, law looses its meaning -- and authority, unable to enforce it, looses all public respect. Increasingly, if one learns the rules at all, it will likely be so they might be more properly and safely broken.
The United Nations and its body of law will never gain the degree of respect that Americans once held for their own government and its body of law. Transfer of regulatory authority to international bodies will have the effect of discounting the moral authority of all laws and all regulatory authority, both national and international. The traditional respect Americans and western Europeans once held for their own well regulated governments will increasingly be replaced by an Eastern disdain for law -- always carefully masked by the appearance of compliance.
In closing, I'd like to sum up everything I've written. In short, it amounts to this: The UN and the IMO, with their ISM and STCW codes, as increasingly coercive governmental regulatory authorities, are nothing short of international boondoggles. (The ISM and STCW codes themselves, as international standards guidelines, however, may have considerable value and merit.) As instituted, the ISM and STCW codes are very graphic and irrefutable evidence of the emergence of a planned scheme of total world government, which ultimately can be nothing short of the most corrupt, expensive, and ineffectual governing body in the history of mankind. It would be impossible for it to be anything less. Any American president or representative who would vote to abridge our national sovereignty on behalf of such a monster, in any way, shape, or form, is a traitor to his nation though he may not have the mental acuity to realize it, for the continuing legitimacy of our national government itself is thereby called into serious question.
Updated, October, 2000
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