Wheelhouse Weekly – March 31st, 2020

April 1st 2020

Volume 25… Number 13… March 31, 2020


In This Issue:


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USNS COMFORT and USNS MERCY, the massive floating hospitals deployed to support healthcare facilities in New York and Los Angeles that have been overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, are now on station and providing care.

USNS MERCY arrived in Los Angeles Friday and accepted its first patients Saturday.

USNS COMFORT departed Naval Station Norfolk Sunday and began receiving patients today.

The licensed deck officers aboard MERCY and COMFORT are represented by the MM&P Federal Employees Membership Group (FEMG). The engineers are represented by MEBA and the unlicensed crewmembers are represented by the SIU.

USNS MERCY is under the command of Captain Jonathan Olmstead. The captain of USNS COMFORT is Andrew Lindey.

COMFORT’s deployment “was an all MM&P bargaining unit members’ evolution, from undocking to ship operation,” said MM&P Government Employees Membership Group Representative Randi Ciszewski.

Captain Mike Hicks was the CNO Harbor Pilot from NAVSTA NORVA who rode COMFORT into Norfolk for a send-off by journalists and US officials, including President Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

COMFORT was welcomed to New York City by a giant sign on Pier 40 that read, “I Want to Thank You.”

“It was the proudest moment of my 40-year career,” said Sandy Hook Pilot Captain Tim Ferrie, who was at the conn of the giant vessel as it headed to its berth at Pier 90.

Both ships will serve as referral hospitals for non-COVID-19 patients currently admitted to shore-based facilities.

They will provide a full spectrum of medical care including general surgeries, critical care and ward care for adults.

This will allow local health professionals to focus on treating COVID-19 patients and shore-based hospitals to use their intensive care units and ventilators for those patients.

Each ship contains 12 fully equipped operating rooms, has a bed capacity of 1,000 and boasts digital radiological services, medical labs, full-serve pharmacies, blood banks, medical equipment repair shops, prosthetics and physical therapy.

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MM&P is working to assist our members in responding to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our members are keeping the supply chains open, just as MM&P members always have in times of national emergency.

Across the length and breadth of our membership and their families—as in the nation as a whole—we are seeing our lives and working conditions dramatically altered. Anxiety is widespread, but it must be tempered by the knowledge that this, too, shall pass.

Composure under pressure is an enduring quality of MM&P members aboard ships and vessels of all types.

As we speak, MM&P members are keeping our communities nourished, our industries fueled and our troops overseas provisioned. First responders, healthcare providers and essential workers of all kinds are commuting to work aboard MM&P-crewed ferries. MM&P pilots are guiding vessels safely in and out of our ports. MM&P civil service mariners are operating the hospital ships USNS COMFORT and USNS MERCY, as well as other essential government vessels around the world.

Thanks to our dedicated staff, our hiring halls remain open on a limited basis and crews continue to be changed out as circumstances permit. Similarly, essential services at MM&P Plans and our Union offices continue on.

The pressures and health care concerns of our members aboard vessels and their families at home cannot be underestimated. What’s more, this comes at the same time that a great many of our members have been suddenly and indefinitely laid off work.

The blow has been particularly devastating in the tourist and ferry sectors in our major harbors where many MM&P inland members are employed. This is true also for our hard-working members at our MITAGS campuses at Linthicum Heights, MD, and Seattle, WA.

To all of our members, let’s recall that members before us have come through more cataclysmic emergencies before us and weathered the storms. United we will see this through and deliver as we always have.

Please log on to the Members’ Only section of for the most recent information.

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The Coast Guard released a Marine Safety Information Bulletin on March 27 that says in part:

During the ongoing national emergency, it is paramount that we safeguard the continued operation of the maritime transportation system in the face of the acute and evolving threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 19, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the Department of Homeland Security issued a memo that includes a list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers” to help state and local officials as they work to protect their communities while ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security.

The CISA memorandum and the MSIB are advisory in nature and quarantine orders and their enforcement are ultimately up to state and local officials.

This MSIB should be used to provide further clarification when making determinations regarding which maritime transportation system workers are considered essential in regions impacted by COVID-19 quarantine and shelter-in-place orders.

The list includes: merchant mariners; state pilots; longshoremen; representatives of labor organizations and seafarers’ welfare organizations; vessel owners, operators, shipping agents and marine dispatchers; commercial barge fleeting facility personnel; vendors and ship chandlers; Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers personnel.

The bulletin noted that many maritime transportation system workers will have a Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC) to confirm their link to the marine transportation system.

But it said others in the support framework will not have specific maritime identification or may be in the process of applying for a TWIC.

In any cases where there is a question, state officials are highly encouraged to engage directly with their local Coast Guard Captain of the Port to confirm whether the worker is essential to maritime transportation system operations.

Critical maritime transportation system workers are reminded to always carry their TWIC along with their other credentials.

The entire MSIB is posted at:

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The $2.2 trillion stimulus package signed into law on March 27 in response to the pandemic emergency includes $3,134,000 for MARAD to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus, of which $1 million goes to the Merchant Marine Academy and $1 million to the state maritime academies.

In a statement, the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) noted that a number of groups that sought to use the legislation as a vehicle to push through waivers of the Jones Act had been unsuccessful.

Additionally, the flexibility provided for FTA grants under the legislation will apply to the Passenger Ferry Grant Program, which means ferry operators will be able to use funds to support operations, a critical need when some ferry services are reporting ridership reductions as high as 90 percent–if they remain operational at all.

The bill takes expenditures from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund off budget, beginning on Jan. 1, 2021, or the date of enactment of the next water resources development bill.

This would allow full revenue taken in each year by the trust fund to be spent out without concerns for budget implications and spending caps.

The language does not include a mechanism for the spend-out of the approximately $9 billion in the Trust Fund currently.

In its statement, TTD noted it has long been supportive of efforts to reform the HMTF, and said its member unions “applaud this important first step.”

MM&P is one of the 33 transportation sector unions that belong to TTD.

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The international cruise lines will not receive financial assistance under the terms of the massive bailout package approved by Congress last week.

MM&P was among the organizations that argued strongly against the proposal—put forth by the White House–to include the cruise lines in the package.

After negotiations between the Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress and the administration, language was included in the bill that restricts assistance to companies incorporated in the US that have the majority of their workforce based in this country.

Either one of these restrictions would rule out the largest cruise operators.

“The membership of Masters, Mates & Pilots is gratified that federal bailout money will not be extended to flag-of convenience, tax-dodging American-owned cruise ship companies,” said MM&P President Don Marcus.

“American taxpayers should not be sending their hard-earned dollars to an industry that freeloads off our government and is notorious for exploiting low-cost foreign crews.”

He said domestic, U.S.-flagged vessel operators should be given assistance–not cruise lines that flag their ships in foreign countries to avoid paying taxes.

“Our members, like thousands of other workers and their families around the country, are facing grave health risks and extreme anxiety while performing their jobs.”

“US tax-paying mariners are keeping our supply chains open on the oceans of the globe and the waterways of our nations. They are provisioning our troops overseas and transporting essential workers to their jobs aboard the ferries of our major ports.”

“Scores, particularly those engaged in harbor work, have been laid off.”

“Rightfully, American workers and the U.S-owned businesses that employ them should come first.”

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The Coast Guard Monday issued marine safety information bulletin (MSIB) 10-20 on drug testing guidance during the COVID-19 emergency.

Contrary to earlier reports, hair follicle testing is not implemented at this time.

The new bulletin is posted at

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SAFEBRIDGE, the company that provides training for the ECDIS equipment aboard Patriot vessels, is making free training available as part of its COVID-19 response.

The training is particularly useful for mariners who may want to work aboard a Watson Class vessel.

The company said in a statement that it is offering EUR 100,000 worth of training licenses for its online training products free of charge as part of its #BeSafe Campaign.

It said it was making the offer so “seafarers can continue to receive quality training from their homes and at the same time #BeSafe in line with the control measures imposed and recommended by governments worldwide.”

To find out more, and to take the course, go to:

The training needed for Patriot vessels is Course Raytheon Anschütz Synapsis ECDIS.

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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:

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 Back issues of The Weekly are posted on