How do you know the problem is mismanagement rather than just not enough inventory in the pool to get people relieved in time without gaps?
Can we fix this with just better management? Or do we need to buy more time ashore by increasing amount of leave and/or training? That would give more people in the shore pool who could relive people on time…I think.
Would be great if this is just a poor leadership/management problem! At least that is theoretically fixable without additional funding.
From my perspective one of the largest problems with MSC is that its government. That restricts you on how you can run the organization.
A fixable problem is that people can stay on the ships for as long as they want. If MSC was 4 months on 2 months off for everyone on board in theory it would run a lot smoother. 2:1 rotations are an industry normal.
But finding people who wanna work for MSC is a whole other problem. Sometimes you cant give away these jobs. Especially when the union and gulf are hiring.
If they ran 3 months on/three months off, with off time allowing training, that would be ideal. I’ve always thought that the reason they can’t donthings like that was because government employees are probably restricted in some way from working like that. Imagine the outrage from the public, who wouldn’t fully understand the industry or the context, I’d you just have a headline saying something like “These federal employees collect six figure salaries and are given months of vacation!?”
The problem is there are not enough mariners to fill the positions. There are a few reasons for this:
MSC is limited to the number of mariners it can hire. MSC can’t simply hire more and more people. Their budget isn’t unlimited. Hiring enough in one rate/rank means going short in other rates/ranks.
Shortages and gluts are seasonal. People want off at certain times (summer, Thanksgiving/ Christmas). People don’t want to report for duty until after those times are over. The people who want off know they won’t get off so they force their way off. This makes shortages acute which becomes a chain reaction.
Training requirements continue to increase (STCW/ Navy required) More time is spent in training or awaiting training and less on ships.
Ship manning has decreased over the years. USN requirements have increased. (Do more with less!) This removes redundancy.
It’s easy to blame ‘poor management’ as a sound bite but the reality is nuanced. More ships, more mission, tighter budgets, less crew.
So how would I fix it?
Well, magically increase the budget and hire more mariners! Decrease training requirements! Reduce mission creep! Which reminds me of the saying ‘Wish in one hand, shit in the other and see which fills up first.’
In all seriousness I would limit the time folks could stay on a ship. Say, junior officer/unlicensed would be limited to 4 months. Limit mid-level officer/unlicensed to 9 months. Limit senior officer/unlicensed to 15 months. Master, CHENG, SUPPO, SCO would have a limit of a few years.
(The reason for that weird number of months is to mitigate the annual or semi-annual shortages/ gluts. As in if folks could stay a year or six months the summer/ winter cycle would likely remain.)
Some additional benefits would be training, medical, and document renewals would be better. More productivity from crew. Some downside would be increased travel budget, shoreside workloads.
There would be intense resistance from ship leadership. This is the primary reason it won’t happen. (Leadership likes to keep ‘good’ folks by granting them ships leave which prevents ‘bad’ folks from getting on their ship.) The usual excuse is ‘crew continuity’ or such nonsense.
I’ve always hoped someone would try a trial run where the third mates and third engineers were limited to four month tours before mandatory relief. This would have to be eased in over the span of a year or more. Eventually performance and job satisfaction would improve. Cost would decrease as the cycle of hire/train/quit was broken. Overdue reliefs would reduce. More and varied experience on several ships would improve mariner knowledge and ability.
If the trial worked it could expand to other rates/ranks. If it failed it could be eliminated.
But ultimately, forcing folks to stay a year or two on the same ship will cause more harm than good in so many ways.
I’m a US commercial mariner with no experience with MSC. What few people I’ve met who have switched over from MSC to the comercial side have left me scratching my head. The vast difference from how business is done between the two is striking. All this talk of there not being enough people is really dumbfounding to me. I realize there are more complex operations like UNREPS to differentiate the two but someone needs to determine if they want to man these ships like he Navy or the Merchant Marine. 6 third mates is overkill no matter how you slice it. I say this knowing full well that I would beg, borrow, or steal to get a second third mate on my commercial vessel so we could actually remain legal on rest hours. There is a happy medium somewhere.
My understanding of MSC has always been that you are signing on to never leave the ship. That has never jived with my work / living my life ratio. I enjoy my friends and family and have never wanted to be attached to a vessel for longer than 4 months. From what I can gather from this thread and others, you have lifers who only want to bank money and care less about getting time off and you have people who grow tired of the grind and move on. Again, there needs to be options in place to allow retention of qualified and desirable people. Equal time off for time aboard would be a start. Are there any actual shipping rules or is it all at the whim of the Master?
Like I said. I do not know how this system can carry on forever. Is it the Navy or is it the Merchant Marine. Pick one and get it over with.
When we say ‘not enough people’ we mean more people want to be relieved then then there are people to relieve them.
I’ll give you an example.
A few years back when oil collapsed and the GoM shit the bed people stopped quitting MSC. No one saw that coming.
At that time is was common for academy grads to apply to MSC, get hired, get training and experience, then quit shortly after. So MSC would compensate for the high turnover by hiring massive amounts of 3M and 3AE every year.
Once the GoM job market collapsed MSC was stuck with all these extra 3M and 3AE. (I recall they were overmanned by 150 3M and even more 3AE.) This put a huge strain on the budget. To compensate MSC stopped hiring anyone (just like the rest of the industry.)
However the turnover on the unlicensed side slowed but didn’t stop. As ABs and wipers and stewards promoted and quit those vaciencies weren’t filled. The budget couldn’t support it. This led to a terrible shortage of AB, OS, wiper and stewards. (My ABs were regularly two to three months overdue for relief. My ships were between 50-70% manned on ABs.)
On the mate side, because people stopped quitting, something had to be done with the glut of mates. They were sent out as augments. Ships that usually had three third mates had six. Instead of two second mates we’d have four. (Engineering was in the same predicament.) No one wanted augments. No one wanted to be an augment.
It was a shitshow for a few years (2014-2018).
Things have improved on the 3M and 3AE side. They are finally quitting. MSC has finally started hiring unlicensed again. But the balance is still off.
So when we say ‘shortage’ this is what we’re referring too: there are more people who want to get paid off than there are people to relieve them.
The thing is. I’ve been union my entire career and I cannot remember anyone going ‘over’ their time. At least not with my company. I’ve heard it happens (albeit on MSC contracts). Someone wants off and a relief is available. Wouldn’t it be nice to go to work and know that you can go home when you want to go home?
Of course! That would be great. I used to sail union for eight years so I know what you mean.
Trouble is, right or wrong, MSC doesn’t use that model. Unlike unions we don’t have a hall full of unpaid mariners waiting for work. Or non-union with unpaid job applicants blowing up HR phone lines. MSC hires mariners full-time so, ship or no ship, they are getting paid. This limits the number of available people.
Maybe the solution is to go the union model and just hire out of halls? Or privatize the whole thing? Either would be a draconion change.
Ultimately, the customer (USN) is adverse to changing something that works for them. They sure aren’t going to risk changing a tried-and-true model just to make us happy. All that can be done is to tweak the system we have and complain about it.
I believe there’s a legal maximum rate at which one is allowed to accrue paid vacation time and a maximum amount one can accrue per year. The way around that would be to increase the base pay such that one does not need paid vacation time.
No sir there are no foreign articles with MSC, all civmars are required to be U.S. Citizens, documented with the U.S. Coast Guard and obtain a SECRET security clearance. All Civmars are in a constant deployment program meaning if they’re not on a ship, in training, or in the pool awaiting re-assignment, they are on leave. When the leave is expired they go on Leave Without Pay. They are not eligible for unemployment unless they resign. There is no Home of Record status the origin of all travel orders originate from the pool or home and the final destination is the ship or the pool. MSC CIVMARS can earn 2 months leave per year. They earn the 30 days annual standard Govt leave and the other 30 days is a combination of Govt sick leave and a MSC specific “Shore” leave. The shore leave is only earned while aboard ship so if they’re not aboard the ship they do not earn a full 2 months leave. The work leave rotation period was originally 6:1 but was negotiated by the unions to 4:1 in order to be commensurate with prevailing maritime practices. Despite the fact that MSC continues to spend millions in recruiting they have consistently lost as much they have gained throughout the years. Academy graduates come for the training and accelerated advancement and bail out back to commercial shipping. All of the madness stems from bad management. People who have never sailed or even worked in a civilian or commercial shipping industry do not make sound decisions in their approach to manage.
I know thousands of folks who work that schedule: MSC unlicensed.
An MSC unlicensed CIVMAR must work a minimum of 120 days. Once relieved he is authorized thirty days of paid/unpaid leave and then may be assigned to another 120 day hitch.
That is a 4:1 ratio. MSC employs several thousand mariners, most of who are unlicensed. Therefore there are thousands of American mariners who must work that schedule. Granted many work other ratios but none can chose to work less than 4:1.