Posted by: towmasters | July 5, 2009

National Mariners Association Secretary To Testify Before Congress, Again…..

We start the week out with some good news: National Mariners Association Secretary and founding member Richard Block has been invited by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to testify on behalf of working mariners at a House Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee hearing next Thursday, July 9th, in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the hearing is for Congress to evaluate whether the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center has delivered on the promise of improving the quality of its service to merchant mariners in the “mariner credentialing” program, formerly known as Licensing & Certification. We’ll have all of the information, including the video, posted as soon as it becomes available. In the meantime, here’s Mr. Block’s announcement letter:

To: National Mariners Association Members and Supporters.

I have been asked to testify before the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee on the National Maritime Center (NMC) and Mariner Credentials.  A copy of Chairman Cummings invitation is attached.

Congress has sunk a great deal of money into the new NMC and its physical facilities in Martinsburg, West Virginia. They need to find out if the money was well spent and whether the program is working satisfactorily. My testimony, summarized in the first 1½ pages that I will read, indicates that there are problems.  As you can READ, BEYOND THAT, I have harsh words for the Coast Guard.

Congress wants “balanced” testimony.  To receive it, they need to hear a wide range of viewpoints, 1) from industry, 2) from the Coast Guard, 3) from trade associations, 4) and from our mariners.  While I strive to be fair and truthful, Congress must obtain the balance it needs based on testimony from all participants. As I prepare this testimony, I have no idea who will be on the other “panels” of speakers or what they will say. This is not about “winning” an oratorical contest. The only winners must be the American people.

Our mariners have a huge stake in the outcome. We have our interests to protect…interests we have been trying to summarize in our Report #R-350, Rev. 4.  V.J Gianelloni III is tabulating the results, but we depend upon you to fill out the “Feedback” forms sent in the last 2 Newsletters.

I believe the proceedings in the Rayburn Building may be covered by webcam and appear on the Internet. You should call Ms. Lucinda Lesley, a very nice lady, at the Committee Staff at (202) 226-0514 at your convenience AFTER Thursday for instructions. The whole proceedings probably will only take several hours at 5 minutes per speaker plus a question-and-answer period. The Subcommittee will come away with an impression, but will then be able to dig through the written testimony. If you are one of the many mariners who has had problems with the NMC or your “Credential” (I.e., the “old” license or Z-card) tune in at your convenience on the Internet and see what the rest of the world thinks.

I have great confidence that Congressman Elijah Cummings, the Sub-Committee Chairman, and Congressman James Oberstar, Chairman of the parent Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, have listened to our Association NOT ONLY on this issue but on other issues as well.

I believe our mariners have a fighting chance to make meaningful changes.  We depend upon your “feedback” including letters, e-mails, and faxes – all of which must be assembled on paper.  This is an excellent opportunity to see NOT ONLY our side of the story, but how it fits into the big picture – assuming all goes well.

Mr. Block has previously testified before Congress, the most recent occasion being Sept. 16th of last year during the hearing (explained in a summary document and recorded in this video) on the Mississippi River collision and oil spill involving DRD Towing and general towing industry safety, including the not-yet-proposed inspection regulations. This isn’t exactly riveting viewing, and it’s hours long, but if you want to understand how the whole system works (for good or for ill) you can learn a lot by taking the time to watch it, in parts if necessary. It will also dispel the notion that Congress is unaware of the dangers of the 2-watch system and the fatigue it causes, shortcomings in the manning standards, licensing issues, towing vessel inspections, chartering agreement loopholes and liability, and other regulatory issues. It’s also interesting to watch a Coast Guard rear admiral and captain fidget uncomfortably in their chairs as they’re asked some very direct and pointed questions. Transportation Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN), Subcommittee Chairman Cummings, ranking member Rep. Stephen LaTourette (R-OH),  former Coast Guardsman Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS), and the other subcommittee members are not at all in the dark about this, nor did they seem inclined to accept the Coast Guard’s usual “we’re looking into it” platitudes. Only time will tell if they’ve truly gotten the message that Congress has been sending them since 2004.

We’ll keep you posted.

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