Monday, March 28, 2011

Engineers get vocal

Ship's Engineers are generally not the boastful, talk for the talk sake types, so generally when a group of them speaks up, it is probably worth a listen. After all, marine engineers are major partners in the pursuit of a ship's ability to perform safely, with optimum quality and efficiency.

Today, the West Coast Ship's Officer Association release a pointed press release, highlighting a simmering situation at BC Ferries, the company that runs a large fleet of vessels on British Columbia's coast, and is an intrinsic part of life in Western Canada. It's been awhile since I visited the association's website, its been around for over 10 years now, starting as a forum, drawing together the grassroots of BC Ferries officers corp.

Although I am not intimate with its genesis, the forum as always been a loosely organized stewing pot of ideas and gripes within the officer corp of the company. Several years ago, the hot topic was the Ferry and Marine Workers Union, predominately made up of ratings and hotel staff, "leading the discussion", leaving the union's officer component feeling "left out in the cold".

I think it is safe to say that this is a shot across the bow of the company's management team. For some time, BC Ferries appears to be adopting a divide and conquer approach to the union. In September they were provided with the ammunition to carry this out. The murkiness of the whole situation, has evidently led to a considerable vocal opposition, leading to this press release, by an entity not affiliated with their official union.

Below is the full press release, and you can find more information, here, on the association who described itself as "...marine engineers, not journalists; ships’ officers, not writers, or editors". They also have a media area that frames their point of view, you can find that here. Local media CKNW's blurb is here. Here's another slightly BC Ferries related newsbit...

Media Release -March 28, 2011
BC Ferries Engineers Sound Alarm

Senior ships’ officers aboard BC Ferries (BCF) are increasingly wary and frustrated about current high pressure management initiatives to exclude them from long-standing membership in the BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union.

More than 80% of senior ships' engineers are believed to have refused offers of excluded positions, with salaries and promises of bonuses well above their existing union pay scale. They say it isn't about money.

They fear that losing the protection of collective representation will constrain highly trained, certified and experienced employees from voicing professional concerns about important matters, most notably: public safety and environmental issues.

Engineers’ officers were excluded from the protections of the Labour Relations Code by the decision of a single arbitrator in September, 2010. They are asking the corporation to halt implementation of the unilateral exclusion process while an appeal is underway and currently before the Labor Relations Board.

As well, they are once again calling on BCF executives to consult with them to discuss and
resolve any problems that management identifies in relation to union membership.

As part of the LRB hearing on exclusions, the corporation submitted sworn statements which included generalizations regarding BCF Ship's officers – who ensure safety onboard - that were both negative, and misleading, engineers are saying.

Senior ships’ officers are utilizing The West Coast Ship Officers’ Association ( – a support forum formed in the 1990s – to share information.

Contrary to controversial BCF statements, ships’ officers have a keen interest and key role in implementing and achieving safety, dependability, efficiency, and other BC Ferries goals and objectives.

Like experienced technicians with similar positions on aircraft, oil rigs and power plants, BCF engineers work as supervisory employees far removed from office desks. Their responsibilities include reporting to governing bodies and regulatory authorities.

In January, 2011, engineers from the WCSOA requested a meeting with BCF president David Hahn. His response to their requests to sit down with them was resoundingly negative: “To be clear, I will not be partaking in any meeting with an organization that has no standing and our plan on exclusions is proceeding as planned.”

The world is awash in disasters resulting from risky cost-cutting measures, dangers of pollution, unsafe practices, hazards and myriad other problems which are most apparent to those whose job and skills are focused on monitoring these matters on the scene, on an hourly basis, in this case, below deck. Engineers want to retain this role.

For more than five decades ships’ officers in BC have earned widespread public trust and confidence, as well as an international reputation for excellence. They are now calling on the corporation, government, the LRB, and the public to continue to support a proud tradition of safety, dependability and service in a proven integrated ferry system.

Pictures from various internet sources.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Women at Sea in New York City

In a little under a week from now, a celebration of progress, you could say, will occur in New York City. Although the marine industry is a predominately "male" industry, some very capable women, have been leaving their mark; at this event, achievements in the United States maritime field will be highlighted. Below is a blurb of the event, and you can visit the Working Harbor website for more information.

" In honor of Womenʼs History Month, the Working Harbor Committee, a not-forprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the history and present-day importance of the Port of New York and New Jersey, will host “Women at Sea,” a special program created to highlight the important contributions women make to the maritime industry.

The evening will begin with Shipping Out: The Story of Americaʼs Seafaring Women, a 60-minute documentary by filmmaker Maria Brooks that appeared on many PBS stations. This unusual documentary tells the history of seafaring women in America. We meet modern women working on container ships, tankers, tugs and other vessels, as pilots, engineers, mates and ordinary 'seamen'. "Shipping Out" explores the history, mythologies and attitudes which limited women's participation in seafaring roles until recent times Immediately following the film, seven women mariners will describe their experiences working at sea and answer questions from the audience. A reception with food, wine, beer and soft drinks will follow.

Participants will be:

--Jessica DuLong, (pictured above) chief engineer on the retired New York City Fireboat John J.Harvey.

--Captain Linda L. Fagan, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Commander and Captain of the Port of New York.
--Commander Linda A. Sturgis, (Pictured right) USCG, head of the Prevention Department at Coast Guard Sector New York.
--Captain Ann Loeding, tug captain who has worked in New York Harbor, the Erie Canal, the Great Lakes and Alaska.
--Captain Coleen Quinn, Sandy Hook Pilot
--Marissa Strawbridge, second mate for American Marine Officers.
--Debra Tischler, commercial operator for Overseas Shipholding
Group Inc. and former second mate on tankers, car carriers and bulk carriers.

The event will begin promptly at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 30, at the Community Church of New York, 40 East 35th Street, Manhattan. Tickets are $20 and are fully tax deductible. They can be purchased at Advance purchase strongly recommended. For additional information or telephone purchases, contact 212-757-1600.

In a related story, you can check out this article as well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Getting Laid (up)

I have been up to my eyeballs in work, getting the ship ready for the 2011 navigation season. Two weeks now, getting all the systems up and running, getting all our welding done, and various defects looked after. Some projects will be orphaned until next year, but overall I am please that the boat, I think, will be in better shape than last year, so I think that is progress.

Here on the "East Coast" of Canada, most Canadian ships tie up, or "lay up", for winter, as the St Lawrence River freezes over, and the St Lawrence Seaways closes for the season. All due to the cold weather, snow and ice, which makes sea passage impractical. Some deep sea vessels will continue for most of the winter, bringing goods to and from ports on the St Lawrence up to Montreal.

The lay up is a much needed down time, to tend to our very old ships. All along the great lakes and along the river, ships will weather the winter months in a safe harbour, from late December to late March, with only a ship keeper on board. This year, many ships, including ours, laid up in Montreal - as a matter of fact the port was reportedly "full".

With the mild temperatures of last week, a few of our berth mates have ventured out for their first cargo. Meanwhile the rest of us are on a mad dash to secure the necessary expertise to wrap up all the projects, before putting "to sea". Our charterers are on the phone, asking us to join them ASAP; could be worst, we could not have cargo...

Hopefully the minus 11 Celsius weather we are experiencing this week, will abate and we should be underway Friday night. Having had the usual initial missteps and numerous "surprises" after lay up, I hope that good luck will finally look down upon us, and the rest of the start of our season will be smooth and uneventful.

The opening of the Seaway is usually the official start up time for most charterer contracts for the region, so yesterday, it officially opened. You can read about it here and here.

Pictures from Internet sources.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The power of an earthquake and tsunami

The images from Japan are shocking and worrisome; few words can express my condolences to the affected and the chagrin at their loss. The amount of energy release by this offshore earthquake, known as the Sendai Earthquake, is mind boggling. With three nuclear power plants in emergency shut down, one incapable of adequately cooling its core, the situation is grave at best.

The resultant tsunami tossed around ships, and there is news reports that shipyards are searching for their missing workers. With images of tugs and fishing boats washed inland by the dozen, overwhlemed port infrastructure and damaged shipyards, it is obvious that our brothers and sisters working on the sea, and on the coast, have paid a very heavy price today.

Living on an island, very close to a similar fault line, with the expectation of a similar event occuring soon, brings a lump in my throat that is hard to swallow. As a sailors, we are keenly aware of nature's whims, which can have devastating consequences for us, so its with this in the back of my mind, that we practiced our earthquake drill just last month, the great BC Shakeout. In general we forget the purpose of preparadess and drills whether at sea or on our time off, until of course such a magnamous event reminds us of our frailty.

To make a donation, to help the people of Japan, click here or here, or support a reputable aid agency. To read about the earthquake and its impact, visit the Wikipedia page. Google is also beta running a crisis response page.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Respite care in port

I am getting ready to head out east, back to work, and the miserable cold. Mind you, things here in BC, have been pretty chilly, with some snow to boot - a rather rare occurence this time of year. As usual my preparations for sea are extensive, wrapping up loose ends, trying to spend as much time as possible with the wife and kids, and little time is left for my "hobby", so thanks for bearing with me with the lack of new posts.

I have been meaning to comment on the Sailors's Society, one of the links recently featured on this website. I am always fascinated to hear of new (to me) bussinesses and projects, so I clicked on it and viewed and learned more about them. On their website they had video, reproduced below. I was impressed with the message and its delivery, and though you might be as well.

The Society is a charity based in the UK, but operating worlwide, providing personal, professional and spiritual needs of a non denominational Christian background. Even coming from a "first world" country, I've had on many occassions taken advantages of a port's Seafarers Mission or Center, so I know first hand this is very specialized work and much appreciated by us professional sailors. For those coming from distant countries, working long contracts, lower down the rank, the work of these charities do, is a downright critical part of a sailor's well being.

The video produced by the Sailor Society is not only an appeal for donations, to continue their work, but also a poignant look at seafaring. Anyways, I thought it was pretty good, and I think you will agree, perhaps you might even consider supporting them, or at least another similar institution - financially or otherwise.

In this video the Society explains their purpose...