News

Wheelhouse Weekly – April 7th, 2020

April 8th 2020

Volume 25… Number 13… April 7, 2020

STORIES COVERED

In This Issue:

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MM&P Holiday Closing Schedule:

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US FLEET, CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS, ASK WHITE HOUSE TO REFUSE ENERGY COMPANIES’ JONES ACT WAIVER REQUEST

MM&P and MIRAID have joined the rest of the US-flag maritime industry in asking President Trump to deny a Jones Act waiver request made by domestic oil and gas interests.

Leaders of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee added their voices to the appeal in an official statement that underlined the importance of the Jones Act to America’s economic and national security.

A number of US oil companies are seeking financial stimulus from the government, citing the impact of the crude oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Energy company officials met with members of the administration on April 3, reportedly to request a waiver of the Jones Act, which mandates that only American vessels owned and crewed by American citizens can be used to transport goods between US ports.

“We recently learned that you will be meeting tomorrow with certain chief executive officers from the oil and gas industry and that some of those officials may ask you to waive the Jones Act,” the U.S.-flag coalition wrote in an April 2 letter.

“We write to strongly oppose any Jones Act waiver.”

“The American domestic maritime industry produces 650,000 jobs nationwide that have been designated by the Department of Homeland Security as part of the essential critical infrastructure workforce.”

“Americans have radically cut back on driving and flying, reducing demand for petroleum products, which reduces the need to ship petroleum products in our domestic markets.”

“As a result, there is a more-than-ample supply of US vessel capacity available to transport oil within the United States.”

“A Jones Act waiver in these circumstances–replacing American mariners and American ships with foreign mariners and foreign ships in our home waters—is unnecessary and contrary to our collective need to come together as a nation to fight this virus.”

“Waiving the Jones Act means outsourcing American maritime jobs to foreign shipping companies that do not pay US taxes.”

“Many of the foreign vessels would have been made in China and are operated by foreign crews who do not pay US taxes and cannot be counted on to go into harm’s way for America’s interests.”

“Those foreign ships would displace modern American vessels made in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Wisconsin, California, Florida and elsewhere in America.”

“They would send American mariners home at a time when they most need the work. Those Americans are working across the country today, at the risk of their own health, to carry out, as you have said, their ‘special responsibility’ to maintain their normal work schedules.”

“A waiver would allow foreign vessels and foreign crews to enter purely domestic commerce, a bad idea in any circumstance but certainly more so during the current Covid-19 crisis.”

“Should these officials nevertheless ask for a Jones Act waiver, we urge you to decline their request.”

The letter was signed by the maritime unions and employers, by maritime advocacy groups and trade associations, and by the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD).

The leaders of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure also wrote the president, reaffirming their bipartisan opposition to any effort to waive the Jones Act and jeopardize US maritime jobs.

The letter was signed by Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Full Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio).

“More than nine million American workers were laid off in recent days due to a public health crisis that will likely continue for some time,” they wrote.

“The Jones Act has been and remains critical to supporting US mariners’ jobs and our maritime industry.”

“Waiving the law, even temporarily, would be a mistake and would weaken our domestic maritime supply chain just when we need it the most.”

“We should not risk the jobs of those US workers who move 99 percent of US overseas trade and 100 percent of our coastwise trade.”

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COAST GUARD ADJUSTS MARINER CREDENTIALING RULES

The Coast Guard has issued a bulletin saying that it is relaxing some credentialing requirements to reduce the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on vessel and port operations.

In particular, it is reducing rules related to the Transportation Worker Identification Card and extending credentials that are set to expire.

Under normal circumstances, to apply for and hold a Merchant Mariner Credential, mariners must acquire a TWIC from the Transportation Security Administration.

The TWIC application process requires an in-person visit to a TSA enrollment center, but TSA has reported that although its own centers are open, some contractor-run centers are now closed.

For this reason, the Coast Guard says it will not pursue suspension and revocation actions for existing MMCs due to expired TWICs.

In addition, it says it will accept MMC applications from mariners who have completed the TWIC application process (enrollment) but have not yet received their TWIC approval.

Mariners with an expired TWIC who apply for a renewal, raise of grade, new endorsement or duplicate MMC may do so without a valid TWIC if they demonstrate that they have enrolled for a TWIC renewal.

As previously announced by the agency, MMC national endorsements, STCW endorsements and medical certificates that are set to expire between March 1 and July 31 have been extended through Oct. 31.

Additional certifications and approval notices, such as the Approval to Test letter, have been extended for the same period.

MMC applications may be submitted online via the National Maritime Center’s web portal, but all RECs and testing centers are closed.

To provide flexibility during the pandemic, the Coast Guard says the TWIC escort ratio may be adjusted to meet employee shortages or other demands.

To date, the agency says, the processing of TWIC enrollments has not been affected by the Covid-19 crisis, and there is no delay in vetting, card production or issuance.

It said TSA’s Enrollment Centers remain open at this time, and TSA is processing new TWIC enrollments.

Applicants planning to visit a TSA enrollment center should use the “Find an Enrollment Center” feature at the bottom of https://universalenroll.dhs.gov/locator to determine if the center is open and what its hours are.

The bulletin is posted in its entirety on bridgedeck.org under Latest News.

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“YOUR SERVICE TO THE PUBLIC IS A LIFELINE,” NEW YORK CITY OFFICIAL TELLS STATEN ISLAND FERRY CREWS

The men and women who are keeping the Staten Island Ferry system running in the midst of the global pandemic are front line responders who are providing an essential public service to all New Yorkers, says New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

“Keeping the ferries running, especially so that health care professionals and other essential workers can continue to commute, is an important lifeline,” she wrote in an April 6 letter expressing the city’s gratitude.

“In ways we know you may have never expected, you are on the front lines, and I know that you are proud to be serving your City… We are grateful to you all.”

In the letter, Trottenberg said the department is working closely with the unions that represent ferry crews to add on-board and shoreside protections to make the working environment safer.

“We are working hard, along with your union leadership, to address your concerns and make the ferry operation safe and sustainable for you and the traveling public,” she wrote.

“We are continuing to strengthen our coordination and are appreciative of their partnership,” she added.

“I can assure you all that they have been strong and effective advocates for you.”

Trottenberg gave a special shout out to MM&P Staten Island Ferry Representatives Rich Russo, Ray Hennessey and Frank Lamiquiz.

Among the changes that the city and the unions have implemented to increase safety:

— reducing the ferry schedule to hourly to help reduce the strain on workers and allow for more cleaning of the boats;

— acquiring and distributing masks and gloves;

— closing bathrooms at different times to reduce cleaning needs and installing portable toilets shoreside.

“We are also working closely with you and our colleagues at NYPD to enforce social distancing in the terminals and on the boats,” Trottenberg wrote, adding that the city has launched
an aggressive social media and press campaign to get the word out.

She said Staten Islanders “are used to rushing onto and off the boats,” an old habit that dies hard.

“But we are making headway in keeping the crowds apart,” she told crewmembers. “We will need your help to keep reinforcing that message.”

“We will continue to keep monitoring our workforce as the crisis continues and looking to find any other ways we can to help protect their health and safety, as well as the health and safety of our passengers,” she wrote.

“Once again, the leadership of both DOT and Ferries appreciate your support and hard work during this unprecedented crisis,” she wrote.

“We are very proud of the work being done to keep the ferry running for our fellow New Yorkers.”

“Please continue to stay safe and healthy and if you need anything, please reach out to us!”

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ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE APPROVES LIMITED INCREASE IN FERRY SYSTEM FUNDING

The Alaska State Legislature voted last week to increase the Alaska Marine Highway System’s operating budget by $20 million.

This action by the legislature raises appropriations to $66.7 million, enough to restore limited ferry service to some of the residents left isolated by the draconian cuts made last year to the AMHS budget by state governor Mike Dunleavy (R).

Hundreds of Alaskans have rallied in the state capital, Juneau, to protest the cuts and the governor’s attempt to privatize the system.

Members of MM&P and the other maritime unions that represent AMHS personnel have been fighting the cuts, which not only harm vulnerable communities but also risk severely damaging the state economy.

The ferry service is an essential connector for Alaskans, in particular those who live in rural and island communities that lack other means of transportation to the mainland and the rest of the continental United States.

Last week, the legislature appropriated an additional $19 million to cover repairs to MV AURORA and to create new crew quarters aboard one of the new ferries, MV TAZLINA and MV HUBBARD, to allow for an extension of its range of operations.

As the two are currently configured, they can only provide service on relatively short-range day trips.

Overall, legislators say, the appropriations should guarantee that at least one ferry is available as relief if another vessel breaks down.

The cuts to the system’s budget have been compounded by maintenance and other issues, prompting the Alaska Department of Transportation to contract with private companies to transport people on smaller catamarans with no vehicles or heavy freight were allowed.

Dunleavy, who is the object of a recall campaign, had proposed $49.9 million in funding for AMHS this year.

He has until April 17 to veto the additional appropriations.

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USNS COMFORT TO BEGIN TREATING PATIENTS WITH COVID-19, WHITE HOUSE SAYS

President Trump said Monday that he had decided to allow patients with the novel coronavirus to be treated aboard USNS COMFORT, the Military Sealift Command hospital ship that is docked off Manhattan.

COMFORT’s sister ship, USNS MERCY, is docked in San Pedro, Calif.

The vessels are operated by Civil Service mariners including licensed deck officers who are represented by MM&P, engineers represented by MEBA and unlicensed personnel represented by SIU.

The US deployed USNS COMFORT and USNS MERCY with a mandate to provide treatment to patients with other medical problems as a way of supporting shoreside medical facilities overwhelmed by the influx of patients sick with Covid-19.

But with New York City hospitals dealing with a growing number of people who are gravely ill with the virus, officials have been asking that the ship’s orders be changed to allow Covid-19 patients to be treated on board.

Trump told reporters Monday that he had accepted a request to that effect from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“We hadn’t had that in mind at all, but we’re going to let him do it,” the president said. “It’s set for Covid.”

The decision comes as medical personnel in New York hospitals are struggling to handle waves of patients ill with the novel coronavirus.

The problems have been exacerbated by a shortage of personal protective equipment for medical personnel.

“Having the COMFORT here is a very, very important thing for New York City in terms of the number of patients served, but also an extraordinary morale boost when we needed it,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN on April 3.

“MM&P members are critical to COMFORT’s successful mission accomplishment,” said MM&P Government Fleet Representative Randi Ciszewski.

“In the midst of the global Covid-19 crisis, these first responders once again answer the call and willingly face the obvious danger aboard a floating hospital ship with dedicated military personnel treating those infected with the virus.”

“I hope and pray that as we celebrate USNS COMFORT, our military personnel and our Armed Forces, we also recognize the contributions of the extraordinary heroes who crew the hospital ships and all US merchant mariners.”

“As a tribute to them during this dark time in our nation’s history, we should take the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive by energizing Americans to support and strengthen the US-flag fleet.”

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LONGSHORE WORKERS IN AUSTRALIA PROTEST VIOLATION OF HEALTH RULES BY PORTS, FOC SHIPS

Members of the Maritime Union of Australia have refused to work several flag-of-convenience ships that have violated government restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19.

On April 4, union members witnessed the crew of AAL BANGKOK, a Liberian-flag bulk cargo ship that had arrived from Kaohsiung, China, moving around the vessel in breach of quarantine and without personal protective equipment, potentially exposing Australian workers to the virus.

“This vessel… should be required to serve its mandatory 14-day quarantine before our members can safely board,” said MUA Western Australia Branch Deputy Secretary Adrian Evans.

“This incident demonstrates to the Australian public that reliance on foreign-flagged vessels complying with the mandatory requirements is not a satisfactory solution.”

“We need shipping lines to understand that there are serious consequences for breaching quarantine orders.”

The union also said that managers at Hutchison Ports have withheld critical information from workers whom they know have been exposed to the virus and allowed operations to continue although they knew at least one worker had tested positive for Covid-19.

The MUA has described the situation as “surreal,” saying the terminal operator “appears blind to the world and current social reality.”

“They just want to work away like it’s business as usual,” said MUA Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith.

“We think hiding facts about exposure to Covid-19 from workers and risking transmission is a criminal act.”

The MUA says at least three other container ships that departed foreign ports have failed to respect the 14-day quarantine period.

“We already know that a failure to enforce biosecurity measures on cruise ships has led to the largest cluster of Covid-19 cases in Australia, causing several deaths and hundreds of illnesses,” said MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin.

“The arrival of these three vessels–in the most extreme case less than two days after being in a foreign port–threatens to repeat that debacle by exposing local workers, and through them the broader community, to another outbreak.”

The union is calling for a suite of measures to be cooperatively implemented to protect workers and the community and to keep the supply chains operating.

“It is irresponsible not to take the strongest measures to protect the workforce which is providing basic needs for the community,” Crumlin said.

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INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS CALL FOR MARINERS TO BE DESIGNATED AS “KEY WORKERS”

The Covid-19 pandemic is having a major impact on global shipping–which moves 90 per cent of world trade–and the working conditions of the world’s nearly two million seafarers.

International Maritime Organization Secretary-General Kitack Lim has asked the United Nations to urge governments to designate seafarers, port personnel and other crucial maritime workers as key personnel.

He made the request, with the support of the International Labor Organization, during a virtual meeting on April 1 with other UN chiefs and the UN secretary-general.

The meeting addressed the impact of Covid-19 on travel, trade, global logistics, food supplies, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment.

During the meeting, Lim highlighted the essential role played by maritime personnel–particularly seafarers–and the importance of crew changes to the functioning of the global supply chain.

He described restrictions on crew changes caused by travel bans and new rules imposed by governments due to the Covid-19 pandemic, arguing that mariners should be exempted from travel restrictions during the pandemic.

The international organizations are calling on member states to “do all that they can to facilitate the delivery of essential medical supplies, fuel, water, spare parts and provisions to ships.”

This follows reports that in some parts of the world suppliers have been prevented from boarding ships to give masks, overalls and other personal protective equipment to crews.

Ports have also refused to allow entry to ships that had previously docked in areas affected by Covid-19, preventing crewmembers aboard the vessels from obtaining essential supplies.

“Seafarers… should be treated with dignity and respect to ensure that they can continue to provide their vital services to the world,” the statement said.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder has asked governments “to ensure that seafarers are adequately protected from the pandemic, have access to medical care and can travel to and from their ships, as necessary, in order to continue to play their crucial role.”

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AMAZON FIRES WAREHOUSE WORKER WHO HELPED ORGANIZE WALKOUT OVER LACK OF VIRUS PROTECTION MEASURES

Labor unions are criticizing online delivery giant Amazon for firing a man who helped organize a strike over unsafe working conditions at the company’s Staten Island, N.Y., fulfillment center.

“Conditions in Amazon warehouses were a disgrace before coronavirus,” an official of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM) said in a statement, “and now we’re seeing once again the dangers of corporations that put the bottom line over workers’ lives.”

Labor leaders and dozens of New York state and city elected officials are urging the company to reinstate Chris Smalls, who helped organize the March 30 walkout.

The workers were demanding that the facility be temporarily closed and sanitized after several cases of Covid-19 were confirmed.

“We write to you today shocked at reports that Amazon warehouses are not practicing the protocols necessary to protect the well-being of your workers and of the public,” wrote officials of the AFL-CIO and several affiliate unions in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

The unions are calling for independent monitors to investigate whether the facilities are adhering to guidelines for social distancing issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Workers at Amazon warehouses in Chicago and outside Detroit have also recently walked off their jobs to protest unsafe conditions.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James said last week that her office is “considering all legal options” in response to the company’s decision to fire Smalls, which she called “immoral and inhumane,” and is urging the National Labor Relations Board to investigate.

“It is disgraceful that Amazon would terminate an employee who bravely stood up to protect himself and his colleagues,” she said in a statement.

“At the height of a global pandemic, Chris Smalls and his colleagues publicly protested the lack of precautions that Amazon was taking to protect them from Covid-19.”

“In New York, the right to organize is codified into law, and any retaliatory action by management related thereto is strictly prohibited.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he had ordered the city’s Commission on Human Rights to investigate Amazon to determine if Smalls had been fired in retaliation for organizing the walkout.

Employees of Whole Foods Market, another Bezos-run business, are also protesting inadequate safety measures and insufficient pay for the risks they are confronting.

The company says it has enhanced cleaning and is paying people diagnosed with Covid-19 and those who come into close contact with them to stay at home.

It says it has also temporarily boosted wages and overtime pay, and is allowing employees to take unpaid time off without penalty through the end of April.

The company says Smalls was fired because he violated a company-ordered quarantine after coming into close contact with an infected co-worker.

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COVID-19 MEMBER RESOURCES POSTED ON BRIDGEDECK.ORG

Information for members dealing with the impact of the pandemic has been posted on bridgedeck.org under Latest News, as well as in the Members’ Only section of the MM&P website.

The resources in the public portion of the site include:

— AFL-CIO Checklist to Find Out If a Person Is Eligible for Unemployment Benefits;
— AFL-CIO List of Benefits Under the Recently Passed Cares Act (financial stimulus).

The resources in the Members’ Only section of the site include:

— Covid-19 illness tips provided by MITAGS;
— Federal and state resources for workers affected by the virus—click on your state for specific information.

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METEOROLOGISTS PREDICT ABOVE-NORMAL ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON

Four major hurricanes are expected to occur during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

April is about the earliest experts can get a good indication of what conditions will be like during the hurricane season.

The above-normal 2020 forecast has been constant among different groups of researchers using different scientific techniques.

Meteorologists at Colorado State University, for example, are currently forecasting 16 storms, including eight hurricanes.

According to these early predictions, four of the eight hurricanes will become Category 3 to 5 storms, with sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

There is a 95 percent chance that at least one of the eight hurricanes expected to occur this year will make landfall in the United States.

Scientists say the chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall in 2020 along the US coastline is 69 percent, significantly higher than the average over the past century, which is 52 percent.

Two of the last three years—2017 and 2018–have had major hurricane landfalls in the US.

In 2017, a year in which six major hurricanes formed in the Atlantic basin, the United States and the Caribbean suffered record-breaking loss of lives and property damage from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Harvey brought massive flooding, Irma generated deadly storm surges and Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, generated winds of up to 155 mph along with damaging rains.

The hurricane research team at Colorado State will release updated forecasts on June 4, July 7 and Aug. 6.

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UK APPEALS COURT AFFIRMS LOWER COURT RULING THAT DEFICIENT PASSAGE PLAN MADE SHIP UNSEAWORTHY

An appeals court in the UK has ruled that “negligent voyage planning” made the container ship CMA CGM LIBRA unseaworthy when it left a dredged channel and grounded on a shoal while departing Xiamen, China, in May 2011.

In reaffirming the lower court’s decision, the appeals court ruled that because of a deficiency in the passage plan, shipowner CMA CGM cannot collect damages from cargo interests to cover a share of the salvage costs it incurred for the grounding of the Maltese-flagged container ship.

The England and Wales Court of Appeal found that a substantial factor in the casualty was negligent voyage planning by the master.

It noted that under the Hague Rules, the carrier is bound before and at the beginning of a voyage to exercise due diligence to make the ship seaworthy.

News of the appeals court ruling was reported in the April 7 edition of Bryant’s Maritime Newsletter.

The international labor union Nautilus had reported previously on the lower court ruling, saying it raises serious legal questions.

The ship suffered little or no damage and, after being refloated, was able to continue on its voyage to Hong Kong and Europe.

To cover a share of the $13 million general average insurance claim, CMA CGM sought funds from cargo interests, but some of them refused to pay.

They argued that the vessel was unseaworthy because the passage plan did not note the existence of a Notice to Mariners issued five months previously by the UK Hydrographic Office alerting seafarers of depths in the area of less than the charted 30 meters.

The shipowner argued that it was sufficient that the relevant Notice to Mariners was attached to or adjacent to the chart, but the judge ruled in favor of the cargo interests.

“This is an extremely interesting case, which raises many important questions about the responsibility for safe shipping operations,” said Nautilus professional and technical officer David Appleton.

“Whilst it might be seen as increasing the exposure of shipmasters and officers, it could also be interpreted as being beneficial if non-adherence to IMO resolutions is held to mean that a vessel is unseaworthy.”

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MM&P HOLIDAY CLOSING SCHEDULE

All MM&P union halls, MM&P headquarters, the MM&P Federal Credit Union and the MM&P Plan Office will be closed on April 10 for Good Friday.

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CLASSES REMAIN SUSPENDED AT MITAGS EAST AND WEST

Classes and in-house simulation exercises are now suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

For those attendees who have classes scheduled after April 24, both MITAGS East and MITAGS West will re-evaluate guidance, executive orders and any other relevant information beginning April 10.

We will do our best to provide notice at that time regarding our return to normal operations. Updates will be provided in future editions of The Wheelhouse Weekly.

In the meantime, class schedules can be viewed at: https://www.mitags.org/calendar/.

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The MM&P Wheelhouse Weekly is the official electronic newsletter of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, 700 Maritime Blvd. Suite B, Linthicum Heights, MD 21090-1953. Phone: 410-850-8700; Fax: 410-850-0973. All rights reserved. The MM&P Wheelhouse Weekly © 2020. Articles can be reprinted without prior permission if credit is given to The MM&P Wheelhouse Weekly. For subscriptions, address changes or messages to the editor or to MM&P headquarters, e-mail communications@bridgedeck.org. Back issues of The Weekly are posted on www.bridgedeck.org