American Maritime Officers (AMO), a national labor union, used the 101st anniversary of what it called the “Titanic cruise liner disaster” to underscore the increasing need for navigational, emergency response and safety training on all commercial vessels – and to make a pitch for U.S. officers.
“None of the recent, highly-publicized cargo and passenger ship collisions, oil-rig accidents, cruise line fires and serious mechanical malfunctions involved American-flagged ships or AMO-member U.S. mariners, who are trained to the world's highest standards," said Tom Bethel, president of AMO, in a prepared statement.
"Although U.S. merchant marine officers are amongst the best-trained, most experienced seafaring professionals in the world, all of whom are documented, licensed and vetted by the United States Coast Guard, they are being edged-out of some commands by officers from foreign nations because U.S. officers expect what every American expects – solid pension plans and other benefits." He added: "Officers from foreign nations and crew members from undeveloped countries, not licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard but by governments abroad, are willing to accept less, so they are getting the jobs."
AMO stated that whilst most of the best-known luxury cruise lines are owned by publicly-traded American companies, the ships are built overseas, fly foreign nation flags, and are under the command of officers from other countries. Bethel said: "The majority of cruise line passengers are Americans who express they would feel more comfortable and safer if there was a presence of American officers in command and on deck.
"Although cruise ship incidents have captured the world's attention, it is important to note that, on a weekly basis, there are serious at-sea mishaps occurring in waters off-the-coasts of mostly undeveloped nations between cargo and other ships that do not make headlines but are of great concern to professional mariners because these ships are aging and their crews are often undertrained," said Bethel.
"The best-known cruise ship lines provide advanced training for their officers and crew members and its vessels are equipped with the most-advanced navigational and safety equipment," he added.
The majority of nautical collisions and ships that ran aground are the results of human error, often exacerbated by fatigue and/or inadequate navigational training. Many mechanical mishaps were consequences of poor or insufficient maintenance and the inability to perform underway repairs by marine engineers and engine room crews.
Passenger, cargo and tanker lines are faced with a shortage of engineers, worldwide, according to AMO. "In an effort to solve the global shortage of maritime engineering officers, AMO is devising a campaign to recruit qualified U.S. high school graduates – educate, train and place them in high-paying, prestigious positions on merchant marine vessels worldwide," said Bethel. "The starting pay for an engineering officer is $100,000, annually."
AMO offers training at Star Center in Florida.
With an active membership of about 4,000, AMO is affiliated with the Seafarers International Union of North America. AMO is the largest union of merchant marine officers in the United States and represents licensed U.S. mariners.