Clawson: Coast Guard’s STCW policy letters provide window into future of rest hours, endorsements, ECDIS
The United States Coast Guard (USCG) will, from time to time on an as needed basis, issue policy letters intended to inform the public of the USCG’s views on various subject areas. These policy letters attempt to convey current and accurate information to individuals, companies and schools in an effort to better equip them to perform their various functions within the regulatory and legal construct that governs the maritime industry. Professional mariners often look to these policy letters for guidance in complying with federal regulations governing vessel operations, as well as for guidance in attaining, maintaining or upgrading a license or endorsement.
Although the USCG has not published the final regulations implementing the 2010 Manila Amendments to the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW), it has published three policy letters, which provide interim guidance on the subject matter affected by the 2010 amendments. While policy letters may not reflect the final regulations as ultimately implemented, they do provide insight into how the USCG intends to implement these changes.
Policy Letter 12-05: Hours of Rest
The Manila Amendments to STCW included important changes relating to required rest periods for seafarers. These changes were intended to alleviate the danger to safe navigation posed by fatigue of seafarers on all vessels subject to STCW. Implementation of these changes to STCW in the United States requires national regulatory changes.
The USCG previously issued interim guidance in the form of a Notice of Policy published in the Federal Register stating that it will not be enforcing the new rest period requirements until the revised regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations. USCG has further provided Policy Letter 12-05, which discusses the issue in greater detail in an effort to lessen the impact of port state control on U.S. vessels operating abroad, where these
STCW amendments are already in force, and avoid vessel detentions for violations. Policy Letter 12-05 notes that rest means a period of time during which the mariner is off duty, not performing any work, and is allowed to sleep without being interrupted. The revised rest period requirements apply to all persons who are assigned duty as an officer in charge of a navigational watch or as a rating forming part of a navigational watch and to those whose duties involve designated safety, prevention of pollution and security duties. The revised rest period requirements state that such persons shall be provided with a rest period of not less than 10 hours of rest in any 24-hour period and 77 hours of rest in any seven-day period. The hours of rest may be divided into no more than two periods, one of which shall be at least six hours in length, and the intervals between consecutive periods of rest shall not exceed 14 hours. Records of daily hours of rest of seafarers shall be maintained in a standardized format to allow for monitoring and verification of compliance with rest period requirements.
The rest period requirements need not be adhered to in the case of an emergency. The Master may require a seafarer to perform any hours of work necessary for the immediate safety of the ship, persons or cargo on board, or for the purpose of giving assistance to other ships or persons in distress at sea, provided that the seafarer is allowed an adequate period of rest as soon as practicable after the normal situation has been restored.
Furthermore, certain limited exceptions from the required daily and weekly rest periods are provided for occasions when crew’s rest periods are interrupted due to an unplanned call out because of unforeseen overriding operational concerns. However, it is inappropriate to apply these exceptions to routine tasks or regularly scheduled port evolutions, which can be planned for in advance.
Policy Letter 12-06: Security Endorsement
The Manila Amendments to STCW also included important changes relating to the security training and certification for vessel personnel. Once again, implementation of these changes to STCW in the United States requires national regulatory changes. However, the USCG issued interim guidance on security training and certification in the form of Policy Letter 12-06, which states that mariners on vessels of 500 gross tons or more sailing beyond the boundary line must have an STCW security endorsement commensurate with their duties by Jan. 1, 2014. These endorsements include Vessel Security Officer (VSO), Vessel Personnel with Designated Safety Duties (VPDSD), and an endorsement evidencing security-awareness training if the mariner is assigned specific security duties.
The existing VSO endorsement demands the highest level of security training. Therefore, mariners who have taken a USCG approved or accepted VSO training course, met the requirements of 46 CFR 11.811 and 33 CFR 104.215 and obtained the VSO endorsement will satisfy the new security training requirements and will not have to undergo any additional training. Mariners holding this endorsement will have their merchant mariner credential (MMC) endorsed with this superior endorsement, as well as the subordinate endorsements of VPDSD and security awareness.
The new VPDSD endorsement will be issued to mariners who provide documentary evidence of having met the existing requirements found in 33 CFR 104.220, which provides standards for security training for vessel personnel with security duties. However, the USCG has also provided an alternative method that grandfathers existing mariners into the new scheme. Mariners who commenced sea service prior to Jan. 1, 2012 may apply for a VPDSD endorsement by providing documentation attesting to the following: 1) seagoing service with designated security duties for a period of six months in total during the preceding three years, 2) performance of security functions considered to be equivalent in scope to shipboard designated security duties for a period of six months in total during the preceding three years, or 3) successful completion of a USCG approved or accepted training course.
The new endorsement evidencing security awareness training for mariners assigned specific security duties will be issued to mariners who provide documentary evidence of meeting the existing requirements found in 33 CFR 104.225, which provides standards for security training for all other vessel personnel. Again, the USCG provided an alternative method that grandfathers existing mariners into the new scheme. Mariners who commenced sea service prior to Jan. 1, 2012, may apply for an endorsement by providing documentation attesting to the following: 1) seagoing service for a period of six months in total during the preceding three years or 2) successful completion of a USCG approved or accepted training course.
Documentary evidence for either endorsement may include a letter signed by a company official or a certificate of completion of training. For many mariners, the simplest method will be to obtain a letter of documentary evidence from the master of their vessel referencing either the VPDSD endorsement pursuant to Policy Letter 12-06 and attesting to the mariner’s seagoing service with designated security duties during a specified time period or the security awareness endorsement pursuant to Policy Letter 12-06 and attesting to the mariner’s seagoing service during a specified time period. Such letters may be submitted with USCG 719B form requesting an endorsement as VPDSD or security awareness endorsement. These endorsements are considered modifications of existing credentials and will not change the expiration date of the MMC. No fee will be charged for issuing these endorsements unless the mariner is seeking a renewal or raise in grade of their MMC.
Policy Letter 12-07: Additional Endorsements
The Manila Amendments to STCW also created several new endorsements and made changes in the required training and issuance of several existing endorsements. As noted previously, implementation of these changes to STCW in the United States requires national regulatory changes, but the USCG has provided interim guidance in the form of Policy Letter 12-07.
Two new STCW endorsements established by the Manilla Amendments, which will be issued by the USCG, are Able Seafarer-Deck (AS-D) and Able Seafarer-Engine (AS-E).
These endorsements correspond with the domestic rating endorsements of Able Seaman and Qualified Member of the Engine Department (QMED) respectively. Mariners are advised to refer to part I of Policy Letter 12-07 for further information on these endorsements.
The Manilla Amendments also revise the requirements for endorsements for mariners serving on oil, chemical and liquefied gas tank vessels. The USCG will make changes to the verbiage of the STCW endorsements to more closely align them with the STCW. The changes also expand the scope of mariners who qualify for STCW endorsements for service on tank vessels. Mariners are advised to refer to part III of Policy Letter 12-07 for further information on these endorsements.
Finally, and most significantly for deck officers, the Manila Amendments also establish mandatory competency requirements for officers on vessels equipped with Electronic Chart Display Information Systems (ECDIS). These requirements apply to masters, chief mates, and officers in charge of navigational watches on vessels of 500 gross tons or more and enter into full effect on Jan. 1, 2017.
Mariners may meet the competency standards for ECDIS by completing a USCG approved or accepted course. Courses completed prior to the 2010 Amendments and the issuance of this policy letter will meet this requirement. Mariners who do not meet the competency requirements by this date will not be qualified to work on vessels equipped with ECDIS and will have a limitation place on their STCW endorsement indicating such limitation. This limitation may be removed at any time by presenting evidence of completion of an approved or accepted ECDIS course.
Samuel R. Clawson, Jr., is an attorney with Clawson & Staubes LLC in Charleston, S.C., who holds an unlimited tonnage merchant marine deck officer’s license and has sailed for a major international container liner. He has lectured on topics including terrestrial navigation and rules of the road at the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.