Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Today is the day, no I don’t mean tax day, as that is nothing new; but rather it is the day that the US Coast Guard starts issuing the Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC). The MMC looks almost exactly like a passport on the outside, except that it is a unique color and doesn’t have the word “passport” on it. Inside are pages, with artwork reminiscent of the license. The MMC will have pages giving the same verbiage as the License, Certificate of Registry, STCW and/or Merchant Mariner document. Essentially people with multiple credentials will now have a single booklet instead of several pieces of paper. To add endorsements, the USCG will now send stickers to adhere into the booklet instead of requiring the booklet to be sent to them.

I am not a fan of this new credential. While it will certainly be easier to manage, I also believe it will be easier to manipulate by those who wish to add greater endorsements to their MMC. Once the MMC is issued, I think that it will not be too difficult to create stickers that can be attached to the book that gives ratings in excess of the current credential. Given that people will not start looking closely at the inside pages, and will probably just scan the document, it worries me that there is an opportunity for fraud.

I am just glad that I was able to get one of the last paper licenses issued, although I do feel saddened that I was unable to get my chief engineer’s license in the same form. It will be a funny thing to see in the next few years as 8x11 inch licenses hanging on the wall of the ship (a legal requirement) will slowly be replaced by a photocopy of a document much smaller and much less impressive looking.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Reflections on Piracy upon earning a Master's Ticket

On April 9th, I was issued a license by the US Coast Guard to serve as Master (Captain) of Steam and Motor vessels of unlimited horsepower upon the oceans. This has long been a professional goal of mine and I will always remember the circumstances surrounding this short period of time around the time when my license was issued.

While it was a great personal achievement to earn this license, it came at the same time that pirates off of the coast of Somalia were holding a US flagged merchant ship hostage. While the ship was soon liberated, the Master, Capt Phillips was being held captive by the four rogues who had boarded his ship. This brought home the realities of my career and the risks and responsibilities associated both with shipping in general and the job of Master in particular. Capt Phillips took decisive action to mitigate the attack which undoubtedly allowed the crew to quickly retake control of the ship, yet in doing so, put himself in harm’s way by surrendering himself to the pirates, and was held hostage for several days until the US Navy SEALS were able to free him unharmed.

Just after Capt Phillips was freed on Easter Sunday, I called my parents and my father pointedly asked what I would do under these circumstances. I had to be honest and say that I really didn’t know. I am not sure that I would put myself into the hands of pirates like he did. It would be easy to proclaim that I would certainly follow in Capt Phillip’s footsteps, but until tested in such a manner, it would indeed be hard to say if I would react in the same way.
The episode certainly dampened my celebration of getting my license, and has hardened my resolve to better train my crew in security, but there is a job out there and these ships need to move. I hope that in conjunction with the navies of the shipping world, we can end this piracy epidemic on the horn of Africa and make the seas safe to navigate.