The U.S. Merchant Marine - Under attack

I don’t pretend to be an authority on the condition of our Maritime fleet or for that matter the any of the dynamic’s which have hindered the growth and expansion of the industry.  My comments are based on my experiences within the industry.

For over 15 years I worked with Naverias de Puerto Rico as a first assistant and relief chief on two different Lancer class vessels. We maintained those ships, close to 30 years old like they were classic cars.  It was through the proper focus of maintaining equipment and systems, that these vessels continued to ply the trade. What killed us was the steel work needed, the tank tops, double bottom internals and such, which were getting thinner and thinner. Only one sister ship had an actual reduction gear problem would have been a difficult and costly repair. The age of our merchant fleet is still running plus 30 years, the average age the worldwide fleet is about 11 years.

After nearly 24 years with our merchant marine, I quit the industry and began working for Hamworthy out of UK, I became an equipment specialist on several equipment lines and had the opportunity to work on many foreign flag commercial vessels, passenger ships as well as oil rigs of different registries.

The contrast of the living and working conditions between our crews and those for example on the passenger ships is unbelievable. From an engineer’s perspective, I can tell you this, our U.S. engineers are perhaps the most knowledgeable and hardest working teams there are.

I have done work with 6 different cruise lines and worked with many different engineers from different countries.  Observing all the different nationalities of the engine department engineers, I can say only the Dutch engineers, seem to get into the down and dirty, like our American engineers.

 Within the cruise industry itself there is an ongoing evolution with manning, we have seen the vessel operators change nationalities within their organizational structure, obviously to cut costs of operations. The cruise industry use to use Norwegians, Greeks and Italian officers and now, more and more, this is changing to mainly eastern European nationalities such as Croatia, Bulgaria and Romanian.

The organizational structure of the management system from shoreside to the vessel ops onboard, creates the basis for how well a vessel is operated and maintained but reality brings it down to those who sail the ships.  If it wasn’t for the cheap, talented and resourceful Filipino’s there would not have been a cruise industry. Granted, the engineers and deck officers can operate the ship and make decisions, but it is the talented, hard working efforts of the crew, that keep the ships maintained and in shape.

Now remember this, the lowest working member of the engine depart works a 12 hour day, 7 days a week for 6-9 months at about $800 per month.  Their engineers are eager at the chance to cut any penalty time such as tank entries where the crew might get an extra $1.25 an hour.

Suffice to say, our Merchant Marine will never be able to compete and no matter what protections we have, such as the Jones Act, there continues to be commercial entities seeking to sink what is left of our industry.

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  • Capt. Douglas J W Olsson,USMS

    Join our group…American Maritime Revitalization Work Group. We are attempting to get out Maritime industry and infrastructure cranked up and rebuilding our own Merchant Marine!

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