STAR Center launches OICEW program to increase number of deep-sea unlimited hawsepipe engineers

Participating in STAR Center’s first installment of the Officer in Charge of an Engineering Watch hawsepipe program, which began in July, are Arniel Benitez, Charles Casteel, Bobby Dunn Jr., Cody Fox, Gene Gallosa, Jahmal Jones, Abdulkhalek Mohsen and Brent Morris. With them are STAR Center Director of Training Jerry Pannell and AMO National Vice President, Government Relations, Christian Spain.

By Christian Spain

National Vice President, Government Relations

As the membership is aware, there is a current manpower issue throughout the industry that is particularly acute in the deep-sea area. I have led and participated in several manpower studies performed over the last decade across the industry.  Each one has predicted a deep-sea manpower shortage in the 2020s based on the baby boomer retirement wave. This has been exacerbated by both the COVID effect and our expanding fleet to create the perfect storm.

These studies also have shown the deep-sea U.S. Merchant Marine retains fewer than 50 percent of academy graduates in deep-sea sailing trades at the 10-year mark. On the other hand, hawsepipers have more than an 80 percent retention rate at the 10-year mark.

There has been an enormous drop in the number of mariners willing to advance their careers and obtain a license (and commensurate STCW endorsement) on the hawsepipe track. This has been caused by the tremendous increase in training requirements imposed by the government over the last few decades on potential hawsepipers. Even though union-represented mariners typically have their training costs covered, taking a large amount of time out for training prevents a mariner from working and earning a living, and at the same time keeps him or her from spending time with family.

While the requirements of a National License have not radically changed over 30 years, an engineering hawsepiper who wishes to sail deep sea must meet STCW requirements, leading to upwards of 24 weeks of additional training at a cost of more than $45,000 compared with the same candidate three decades ago. AMO and STAR Center were early to recognize this threat and created The Engineering Candidate Hawsepipe Program in 2013 to mitigate these effects on our union.

Further study of the demographic data in 2017 led AMO and STAR Center to develop an OICEW program that would significantly reduce the number of weeks of training a hawsepiper would need to obtain an OICEW on their Merchant Mariner Credential. This was a long process of going back and forth with the National Maritime Center and U.S. Coast Guard HQ staff for years, but persistence has paid off, and in July our first class of eight OICEW candidates started training at STAR Center and we expect them to each have an MMC with an STCW endorsement, allowing them to go to work aboard our deep-sea vessels before Christmas.

This kind of forward thinking will help us weather this storm. I would ask those officers who have potential hawsepipe candidates for USCG Third Assistant Engineer Motor and STCW OICEW endorsement to recommend them to AMO Government Liaison Bob Silva directly ( AMO and/or STAR Center will follow up and provide information on the different pathways available from QMED to Third Assistant Engineer to OICEW.