Monday, April 30, 2012

TC needs you !

Transport Canada Marine Safety would like your input.

If you access Marine Safety's services, they are looking for some feedback on the length of time they should provide these services.

I thought it was a survey at first, but its basically a "comment card", you would find at your average franchise business, to put in that little wooden box hidden by the end of the counter. The way (or lack thereof) they explain it is not straightforward (big surprise there) so I fill it out thinking they had a bunch of survey question to follow. However this is not the case.

So I suggest you have a look at the program's website, and decide for yourself. Each topic has the amount day they aim to deliver in, if this is too long or short, use the comment card to submit your suggestion. i.e. Issuance of Medical Certificate, right now they target 120 days to give your medical, I think, and judging by discussions on The Common Rail forum, many of you also find this too long. So if you would like to comment on this time frame...

  • the feedback button, click "yes" - you want to provide feedback, then the "next".
  • Now comes a form page with a bunch of tick boxes matching the hierarchy of the areas they previously mentioned,
  • Find the one item - i.e. "Marine Medical Certificate", tick that box (The confusing  part for me is why they allowed choices - so many tick boxes... but I guess you might have a general comment that affect all)
  • Then fill in your "Group" your "name","association or company", info
  • Then enter your comment, i.e. here's what I put down "Seafarer Medical - These are critical to our ability to earn a wage. I think medicals should be issues within 60 days - max. Provisional certificates are fine, but they only last 6 months, and on a 3 month on / off schedule, you end up stressed because you will be kicked off the ship if no valid medical matches your license. Its fine in Canada, everybody know TC and their ways, but try explaining that to a PSC inspector in Hong Kong or Miami. "
  • Then you can enter your email for follow up information
  • Press submit
  • You can press home, to start a new form again, and submit a comment for another topic
I don't know why it seems a bit confusing for me, perhaps it the ISM audit we just went through, but I'm sure it will be for some others. Anyways, have a look and do provide input where you feel you should. It's so rare that anyone ever ask the seafarers for input, that we should not pass this opportunity up.

You can find the TC standards feedback website here, you only have until May 31st, 2012, to provided your comments through this medium.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ejaculation helps, so they say

"Man Health", wut de hell is dat?

Yes, that's generally how men react to doctors and probing; they become withdrawn from the conversation. If it wasn't for the IMO, I think a fair bit of men would probably never see a health professional. But of course with seafarers requiring a physical done every two years, we are not afraid to talk about health issues aboard. I know just the other day we were talking about mental health issues - our shipmate's mental health - see we talk openly about health aboard.

Another talker about health is the US Coast Guard's point man (Commandant, USCG), Admiral Bob Papp. As matter of fact the whole organization is talking about it, and I think its a good thing. The other day, the USCG issued a press release stating that the Admiral had undergone surgery to treat the early stages of Prostate cancer. His proactive attitude allowed for an early detection of the disease; therefore a step up on beating it. It's a message he's spread through the rank and file of the USCG, but it is certainly a message for all of us men, ashore and at sea.

Having a proactive prostate cancer attitude is a good message, because you probably already have it, or at least you are very likely to have it. Yes, prostate cancer is the most common cancers for men in the United States. The risk of getting it generally starts at age 50, and by the ripe old age of 80, 80% of us men will have it. However, it is not always fatal.

According to Wikipedia, genetics play a role, but a poor diet rich in red meat and low on fruits and vegetables, and drinking alcohol may put you at heightened risk. Furthermore a lack of natural (UV) light also plays a significant role. So obviously, seafarers, in particular Marine Engineers, are in an elevated risk category, I would propose.

So what to look for... from Prostate cancer on Wikipedia.
Early prostate cancer usually causes no symptoms. Sometimes, however, prostate cancer does cause symptoms, often similar to those of diseases such as benign prostatic hyperplasia. These include frequent urination, nocturia (increased urination at night), difficulty starting and maintaining a steady stream of urine, hematuria (blood in the urine), and dysuria (painful urination).

Prostate cancer is associated with urinary dysfunction as the prostate gland surrounds the prostatic urethra. Changes within the gland, therefore, directly affect urinary function. Because the vas deferens deposits seminal fluid into the prostatic urethra, and secretions from the prostate gland itself are included in semen content, prostate cancer may also cause problems with sexual function and performance, such as difficulty achieving erection or painful ejaculation.[7]

Advanced prostate cancer can spread to other parts of the body, possibly causing additional symptoms. The most common symptom is bone pain, often in the vertebrae (bones of the spine), pelvis, or ribs. Spread of cancer into other bones such as the femur is usually to the proximal part of the bone. Prostate cancer in the spine can also compress the spinal cord, causing leg weakness and urinary and fecal incontinence.  
I think its great for Admiral Papp to share his personal experiences, encouraging other men to take notice early. I myself celebrate Movember every time I'm on board, although some of my shipmates have questioned my true motivation for the dishevelled look, and wonder if I am really supporting this prostate cancer awareness tool. Regardless, as I creep into my forties, and most of my Marine Engineering peers are well into their 50's, I think its an important message for us all.

Thanks Admiral Papp, and all the best to you and your family for a positive recovery. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Notice of service for The Common Rail

It appears that The Common Rail, our community forum, has been hacked, and the website has been distributing various redirects to spam considered "low threat" by Sophos security software. If you have security software installed, you should get a message like "Malicious Content Blocked", I got the following malware "Mal/Badscr-M" identified as the threat.

From my experimentation it appears to only affect user using Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. I use Firefox and never saw this issue; also tried Google Chrome and no issues there as well.

There is very little info to go on, it took me quite a while to put the piece together as to what is happening. Right now, I am in the process of figuring out a response and have disabled the forum area. It seems to have resulted from a security breach at my host company, Dreamhost.

As I am downloading the full content of the forum for analysis, Windows Security Essentials detected a backdoor virus in the Avatar folder (...and promptly deleted without giving me more info - arghhh).

I am sorry, especially to those who have been affected directly.

I am in contact with Dreamhost and phpBB to figure out a solution and I will hopefully be back online shortly.  - Martin, April 25, 2012, 10:00hrs EST

Monday, April 23, 2012

Snowball chance in hell - huh, Hamilton

I was in southern Ontario quite a bit this winter, and only once, did we have any significant snow - which only lasted a day or two. Sure we had a couple of cool days, but really it was mild, usually in the teens by the afternoon. Now, just days away from May, here we sit in the beautiful harbour of Hamilton, strong northerlies up our stern, and snow in the forecast! Unbelievable.

As you have probably guessed, I don't have much for my blog, been spending lots of time on other computer work and been getting "screen eyes", so I thought I'd talk about the weather. Its not like I don't have a fair bit of time; we are in a holding pattern, hovering in Hamilton, waiting for work. This is not abnormal for this time of year; there is a glut of product tankers trading in the area, so until they bugger off for their annual resupply runs to the Canadian arctic, we run short on work. So hopefully I get my marine blog brain to re-engage and gets some interesting, witty, insightful entries done - well ok, maybe just get some done.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tombstone design

Tombstone design; that's what my maritime school instructor use to characterize the maritime regulation making mechanism. Probably no bigger set of regulations has ever been imposed on the seafaring world, than the ones resulting from the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

Unless you are a cavemen, having recently awoken from your long icy slumber, then I am sure you are well aware that the Royal Mail Ship Titanic, sank 100 years ago today. The 46,328 GRT vessel, the largest at the time, hit an iceberg at 23:40hrs, slicing open its recently constructed hull, while on its maiden voyage. It sank into icy depths of the Atlantic over two hours later, taking with it about 1500 lives, including all the engineering officers.

There is much coverage of this event in the public, so there is plenty for you to digest from more knowledgeable sources than this blog. But I just wanted to pay a humble homage to the engineers aboard, who by all accounts were instrumental in keeping the lights on, until the final moments, when she slipped below the surface.

Keeping the lights on, meant that the engineers had to maintain fire in the boilers, and steam pressure up. The electricians then had to nurse the electrical generators going, by keeping the turbines humming along. Lighting was critical of course, but ultimately the need for electricity to launch the lifeboats meant this task done, deep in the bowels of the liner, that was sinking, was nothing short of a brave feat, deserving of truly heroic designation.

According to the Guild of Benevolence's Titanic Centenary Appeal, all 35 engineers, from Chief to Engineer's Clerk went down with the ship. Also perished, were the Titanic's Designer and seven "warrantee engineers" from the builder, Harland and Wolff.  In 1912, the IMAREST in cooperation with British paper, Daily Chronicle, established The Titanic Engineering Staff Memorial Benevolent Fund, which was created to aid the families of those brave men who lost their lives.

Those family have moved on, but the fund remains, and continues to aid the families of all lost certificated marine engineering professionals who have perished, regardless of IMAREST membership. They are currently appealing to the community and general public for donation to maintain their work.  To find out more about their work and how you can help, visit their website here.

I stayed up way too late the other day watching a riveting special on the Titanic's engineers; it was called "Saving the Titanic". The documentary dramatically recreated the happenings as reported in the inquiries, by the few survivors. I particularly enjoyed this take, which I've never seen before, an homage to the men below. If you are interested in further films on the Titanic, I understand the 1958 film, "A night to remember", is the most technically accurate recreation on film. The National Post also has these really neat old pictures of the ill fated ship posted on their website.

We've been reminded quite starkly of the results from the Titanic's foundering, especially with the recent spat of maritime accidents involving passenger ships, such as the Costa Concordia. These accidents have in some way been mitigated by the many regulations resulting from the Titanic, namely the Safety of life at sea (SOLAS) convention, which came in 1914.

I heard quite an apt comment yesterday on the radio, responding to the longevity of the public's fascination with this doomed liner; "The story has proven unsinkable with the general public, long after the ship sank". 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mr. Duck goes to Ottawa

CIMarE National Chair and Co Host of the MariTech 2012 introducing the Safety Panel discussion
I am at the airport now, about to leave Ottawa after five days here, heading back home for a few days before going back to sea. I arrived in Ottawa on Sunday, and enjoyed our nation's capital by visiting the parliament building, the war museum, and extensively walking around the downtown core, taking in the sights and experiences.

On Tuesday, the true purpose of my visit, attending Mari Tech 2012, began in earnest. This year's annual technical conference from the Canadian Institute of Marine Engineering (CIMarE) was co sponsored by the Society of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (SNAME).

The conference had a much different flair than the previous year's conference held in Victoria. For one, the physical size of the conference space and the number of attendees was much greater; reported to be over 500 attendees. For those having attended the previous conferences, they would have found the format varied considerably, with numerous papers sessions occurring simultaneously. The conference also featured several panel discussions.

Khanh Tran, Chief Engineer with Canadian Coast Guard deliver a technical paper
One common comment I observed, was that there was too much to see and hear, and that it was difficult to fit it all in - I guess you could say too much of a good thing. The look and feel of the event was also a more polished one, aided by what seemed to be a well equipped facility and staff.

My purpose for attending Mari Tech 2012 was to give a presentation on Blue Riband, which my time slot happened to be the last of the conference. Being an active mariner not accustomed to large crowds, this gave me ample time to let my nervousness fester. Baring a rushed end to my presentation, due to closing comments from Public Works deputy minister, I think the ideas were well received from the thin crowd.

The bulk of the attendees from the Ottawa area (government), were of course centred on the still developing NSPS program and its management. The Canadian Coast Guard and Public Works Canada had a decidedly prominent presence, overshadowed only by the Navy's presence. Conspicuously missing, sadly for my conference objectives, was Transport Canada representation. As a matter of fact, I did not even hear of one single person, currently working for Transport Canada, attending the conference, even though the conference was held on a weekday in Ottawa, less than fifteen minutes away from the main TC offices. Also absent, were Canadian ship operators and major west coast organization, the exception being PMC and BC Shipping News magazine.

The CIMARE National council AGM occured during the Mari Tech
The opening day's morning highlight was M. Peter Noble, the president elect of SNAME, and Chief Naval Architect with Conono Phillips. His extensive knowledge and experienced in the commercial shipping world, offered a stark contrast in approach to shipbuilding management then that from the Canadian government's position, as discussed in the featured panel.

BC Ferries might have been missing from the attendance rolls, but probably played a prominent role in the conference's focus on safety, on the afternoon of the first day. M. Wendy Tadros, Chair of the Transportation Safety Board (TSB), presented a keynote speech, introducing the core values of the TSB, by extensively using the Queen of the North investigation as a working example. Her comments that the TSB actively dismisses "easy blame answers", and openly strives to keep "digging deeper", to find the ultimate conditions for an accident to occur, I found it to be encouraging. Her presentation was followed up by several discussions and papers, on safety and its culture, within the industry. The general consensus seemed that a greater amount of personal ownership and an increase enforcement of existing regulations is required.

On the evening of the first day, we were bused to the lavish and historic Fairmont Chateau Laurier, where the large and enthusiastic crowd enjoyed mingling together to the Navy's string band. After the gala dinner honouring the late J. Douglas Hearnshaw, Rear Admiral Mark Norman, of the Royal Canadian Navy, gave an insightful speech in which he praised the engineering community for its endeavours to keep them sailing.

MariTech 2012 gala dinner at Chateau Laurier in OttawaThe second day's morning, feature more of a navy shipbuilding focus, with some interesting concepts offered from our friends south of the border. The afternoon featured numerous papers in various spaces. My "free beer" comment interestingly failed to draw a huge crowd to my presentation, owing to the fact that they're were so many other things going on.

Obviously these events present technical papers and discussion, allow service and equipment manufacturers to display their wares, all to improve our wisdom, but ultimately best part is to connect face to face with our peers, and meet new one. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet so many people that were new to me, and took the time to seek me out.

Next June, the Atlantic Branch of CIMarE will host Mari Tech, June 25 - 27, 2013 at the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel, Halifax. From what I understand there is already a good deal of interest expressed by exhibitors, so that is good to hear. 

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Conservative budget 2012, "Creating Jobs" ?

The Canadian government has not, is not, really known for any maritime policy prowess. There was some hope when they undertook the National Ship Procurement Strategy, that they could be seen to be recognizing how important ships are to Canada, but really this was more about defence spending, rather than a positive outlook on the importance of shipyards and heavy industry.

With the latest federal budget, delivered late last week, the conservative government really took whatever little hope Canadian maritime professionals had of being competitive on the international market, and threw it right out the window.  The ruling Conservative Party under the leadership of Mr. Harper, have introduced a phase out plan of the Overseas Employment Tax Credit, also known as the OETC.

This tax credit was probably not originally meant to appeal to Canadian foreign going seafarers, but has been extensively utilized by those sailing aboard ships servicing the oil and gas industry. What it did, is allow a higher income threshold before income tax became applicable - therefore reducing the overall income tax load. This allowed for money earned by a Canadian seafarer, to have similar purchasing power, to their international counterparts. However, with the phase out, this means the same salary paid internationally will be worth much less to a Canadian because most of it will be taxed as if working in Canada.

Income taxes on foreign going Canadian seafarers, has put us at a severe competitive disadvantage to our international peers, and I have long railed against it. I have been fighting for income tax change for some time on my main website, but without much success. Mr. Flaherty, the Finance Minister, has flatly turn down any options for us seafarers. You can view his response to my queries on the main website, just look for the "Taxes" area - which incidental, has quite a bit of information on Canadian taxes and seafarers, including the OETC.

To be honest, I am not upset about the phase out, I think the program was designed to benefit a very narrow field of companies; the benefit to professional seafarers, I believe, was unintentional, confined to a very narrow section of Canadian seafarers. I would much prefer a proper income taxation scheme, similar to those in most international jurisdictions, that recognize the importance of all seafarers.

Unfortunately, I have not much confidence that this government is able to develop a strategy for the maritime industry, much less one that focuses on the human workforce. So giving up even a millimetre of benefits to seafarers is therefore a step in the wrong direction in my view.

You can learn more about the phase out of the OETC on the CCRA's website. As you can well imagine, there are a few of our peers affected by this, and they are not too happy about it. There is a an active campaign to let the Finance Minister know about their displeasure with the changes, you can lend your support for it at the "Allow the current OETC rules to remain in place" petition, which can be found here. There is a discussion thread going on The Common Rail as well, you can find that here.