Thursday, January 31, 2013

TSB 2.0

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has recently unveiled a much more elaborate web presence and communication strategy. Over the last decade, they appeared to have taken a low profile. In 2013, it is now fully embracing web 2.0, and the TSB is opening itself up like never before. The new website is visually stimulating, and navigating is easy and straightforward; a novel concept for typical government websites. It offers information about the latest occurrences and reports on various accidents in the various modes of transport it investigates – Pipeline, Air, Marine, Rail.

On the home page, there is a headlines and reports section; easy links to “report an accident”, and their priority issues, along with the usual housekeeping stuff. In expanding their message’s reach they also have a Twitter feed on the home page, announcing latest news and dispatches.

From the main homepage, you can visit the individual areas of focus for the TSB, including the Marine Area. In this area, you will find their watch list issues – Safety Management System, and fishing boat fatalities and how they are focusing on them. You will also find the latest marine accident report, ongoing investigation, statistics, and their recommendations resulting from the various accidents.

I have always admired TSB’s marine investigation reports because they appear to be truly focused on finding root causes, and then asking why. Many investigations around the world seem solely focused on finding a quick culprit, hopefully one person, and then simplistically feeding that person to the wolves, despite their mandate not to do exactly that.

Also new, is the TSB Recorder - their new blog - using plain speak to communicate their work and findings. On the Blog you’ll find an interactive map of Canada with recent occurrences and linking them to their Flicker Page, displaying photos of various accidents and the investigation process. One of the recent entries on the TSB Recorder is about the investigatory challenges, during the Sedna Desgagnes grounding at the Prescott Bridge, on the St Lawrence River.

The TSB also has a YouTube channel for the video-philes out there; featuring many computerize recreation of various accidents and supporting multimedia. The TSB’s Flickr account features accident pictures from the various accidents it investigates. One of the latest uploads being the Cape Apricot, which ran into Deltaport Terminal pier, in late December.

If you have not been in a while, which I would not have blamed you in the past, I would highly recommend you drop by now. The website is well designed and appears to have a genuine want to communicate effectively, which is a refreshing idea for the federal government. Congratulations TSB; keep up the good work. Of course, it is available in both official languages, and you can find it the main site from

Monday, January 28, 2013

Costs of being a marine engineer

credit - interwebs
A few weeks ago, I compiled a list of the steps required to achieving and maintaining a Transport Canada 1st Class Certificate of Competency. The list identifies the individual steps to hold a 1st Class and the associated cost not only in terms of money, but also in terms of time for training, in the “classroom”, and time served aboard a ship. I compiled one list for the Marine Engineering Cadet stream, and one for the so called “Alternate Path” stream, or “hawsepiping”.

No matter how you slice it, the path to becoming a Marine Engineer in Canada is not an easy one. It is very long and many requirements have to be met, to succeed. But it is clear that taking the Cadet path to 1st Class is the best option; costing about $25,500 dollars and taking about nine and half years to complete. The “Alternate Path”, is considerably more burdensome in the number of steps, and considerably more expensive, at $32,800 – 26% more. However it takes about the same time as the cadet stream, 9.2 years, to complete.

The data is compiled in its entirety, but some individuals may be able to find shortcuts to some aspect of the requirements listed, but overall, these “shortcuts” are quite minimal. The costs, as they are compiled neglect a considerable additional financial burden: the cost of housing, food, transportation, taxes, and such are not included in these summaries. With an expected time in school of over three years, this would represent a considerable financing challenge by an individual pursuing a Marine Engineering career.

Sea time served aboard a ship is also calculated as the necessary sea time, which does not include time off, or vacations. When these factors are considered, the length of time required to complete the program stretches considerably. The length depending on the type of watch, 8 or 12 hrs served on board, and leave rotation. Leave in Canada is mostly at day for day – or at least ought to be, so theoretically, the 6.2 years of sea time Transport Canada requires, could end up being twelve years in actual time.

These costs also ignore the elephant in the room, that is, the social cost of a career at sea. These affect individuals differently, but principally include social isolation, leading to social disorders such as substance abuse and failed marriages / relationships. The impacts to the support network that a seafarer is able to maintain, are also considerable. Children with absent parents and the impacts this produces are immeasurable. Impacts on spouses and their ability to function “normally” are also greatly affected by this career choice of their spouse.   

credit - interwebs
The purpose for me to compiled these lists were to ascertained whether the return on such a considerable amount of time, financial, and social investment are worth the returns. I recognize that the social cost is not readily calculatedly. It is also safe to say that the job satisfaction benefits are also not calculable. So the question becomes is it comparable to other professions or trades; I would propose not.

The sheer amount of requirements to be met is staggering, and requires a long time frame to complete. I estimate an initial salary in the range of $50-70k per year in Canada for a 4th Class with two years experience on the job. I further estimate the range for 1st Class to be around $100-120k per year, however, these latter figures are, if and when you do get a 1st class license, which takes at least 8-11 years after achieving a 4th Class.

If you were to weight options, perhaps a Red Seal trade, such as Diesel Mechanic, Millwright, Electrician, or even a police officer would, I suggest, would offer a more reasonable return on investment, than Marine Engineering would. Journeyman status is quickly reached, 2-4 years, with fewer initial and ongoing training and licensing requirements by comparison. I would suggest that they reach higher initial earnings, and more importantly, considerably less social impacts on the individual or their families.

I would suggest that Marine Engineer remuneration packages offered in Canada are currently inadequate to attract new Marine Engineer to the profession. In strict comparison to other avenues of post secondary education, an investment in Marine Engineering is a long term outlay of capital, with meager returns.

The remuneration situation also fails to recognize the current realities of seafaring and its impact on an individual’s ability to have a family, a basic human need. The ability to raise a family has many facets made more complicated, by the very specific and enormously taxing work requirements. These challenges are seldom anticipated by new entrants into the maritime world, until well into their careers. Therefore the overall remuneration for a career minded Marine Engineering professional, is woefully inadequate, particularly in Canada.

credit - interwebs
I would suggest a proper remuneration package starting at $95-120k per year for 4th Class to at least $200k per year for a 1st Class. This might seem like a large amount to employers, but I propose it is what it will take to address the stagnation of Marine Engineering wages since the 1980’s.

Those who are now retiring in great numbers, had their peak wage demands back then, and as their lives moved to post family one, their cost decreased. I theorize that they settled for marginal wage increases from ship operators since the 1980’s. However, this generation is now retiring, and in order to attract career minded professionals, the wages in this demanding profession will have to reflect the current realities – however dramatic that might feel like now. 

You can download the files from the main website (Ship's Library), or by clicking below...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Night at the museum

Maritime Museum in Victoria, BC
The BC Maritime Museum is holding a special exhibit to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Canadian Coast Guard. Located on the second floor of the museum, you will find videos, pictures, and dare I say, artifacts from the Coast guard, many of which I recognize from time there - model coast guard ships, fog horn, a Marconi radio station - where kids can decipher the Morse code messages - and more.

They even brought in one of the simulators from the Bamfield RHIOT course. The challenging course teaches the use of rigid hull inflatable boats to the local Coast Guard crews and visiting crews from the USCG, RCMP, Royal Canadian Navy, etc. The main training base in located in Bamfield, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, which offers challenging sea conditions to test newly acquired skills. We tried our hand at it last Sunday, during a family visit to the museum, and the simulated "733 rubber boat" seemed very realistic to me, with local Bamfield scenery that is pretty impressive.

The museum is located in Bastion Square, in the old courthouse building; downtown Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. The opening hours are from 10 am to 5 pm every day. Cost of admission is a reasonable CDN$12 per adult, even cheaper for youths and seniors, check their website for more information. The museum features various galleries on BC maritime history and special local interest galleries, such as an extensive one on BC Ferries, another one on the Navy. They also have an a large model ship collection. If you are in the area, I recommend you check it out.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Back on dry land

Sailor's Xmas
Had all the intentions of doing a quick follow up blog entry, but internet was incredibly spotty on our way to Duluth and going back to Nanticoke; must have been all the iron ore in the cargo holds. Well, I am back home in BC now, getting re-acquainted with the family. Taking down Christmas lights and decoration; I put them up a day or two before I left at the beginning of December, and just took them down yesterday. Probably the longest time I've ever had them up, yet only saw them about a total of five days. Ahhhhh, life at sea. Barely stepped ashore during the full six weeks aboard, felt a bit isolated. On the plus side, missed most of the flu.

I did manage to update the main website, and uploaded it a few days ago, which I hope you will enjoy. Many new reports and articles. Including an original and lengthy one on upgrading a certificate of competency in Canada, and why its so very challenging. I will make another blog post on this later.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

The large Hebron provider

Source -
Super oil major, Exxon, and it's partners, made it official today; they are committing to spending $14 billion on developing the Hebron offshore oil project in Eastern Canada. Situated in the Jeanne D'Arc Basin, about 350 km south east of St John's in Newfoundland, the project will join nearby oil and gas operations Terra Nova, White Rose and the big one that launched it all, Hibernia. The Hebron project will be similar to the Hibernia operation, also run by Exxon, and producing oil since 1997.

Hibernia produced 150,000 barrels a day in 2011. Hibernia's reserves were originally estimated at 700 million barrels, but that was revised to 1.2 billion barrels. In comparison, Hebron's reserve is expected to hold 1 billion barrels. This will represent a significant increase in offshore oil production capacity for Canada. The project is expected to achieve first oil in 2017.

Originally discovered in 1980, the development was approved in May 2011 by the federal and provincial government. Apparently, today's announcement is no big surprise since construction for the project's gravity base oil platform has been underway since April 2012, at Bull Arm, Newfoundland.

The Newfoundland marine workforce will undoubtedly be drawn back home, from all parts of Canada they currently work in. This I imagine will further stress the supply of seafarers in Canada, in particular the Great Lakes. However, if history is any indication, there will most likely not be too many mariners from other parts of the country invited there. Additionally, the trend of bringing in foreign assets to carry out work on the project, already very common in this area, will surely increase, further eroding our marine know how and sovereignty. All point to interesting times ahead for the Canadian seafarer, and those who depend on them.

You can read Globe and Mail's article here, and learn more about the project here.

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