USCG Commandant Visits SCI’s Houston Maritime Education Center by President & Executive Director David Rider

Jul 3, 2019

On Friday, June 28, SCI hosted the U.S. Coast Guard’s Commandant, ADM Karl L. Schultz, who toured our state-of-the-art maritime simulation center while engaging instructors and students on best practices for navigational safety. Before his departure, Center for Seafarer Rights Director Douglas Stevenson (himself a retired USCG officer) briefed ADM Schultz extensively on SCI’s advocacy work since 9/11 to assure shore leave access for international seafarers calling at U.S. ports.

A Coast Guard cutter officer earlier in his career, ADM Schultz eagerly asked questions about ways that river towing companies harness simulation training to strengthen skills and navigational leadership. He engaged a full career span of mariners who were training with us, from a young steersman working to gain his pilot credentials to a 40-year river captain back for advanced training. Company reps from Marquette Transportation and ACBL—who were training on our Transas and Kongsberg simulators—spoke to the Commandant about the critical role of simulation training in their comprehensive safety management systems. SCI’s Captain Dave Howell explained SCI’s method for advancing junior pilots while Captain Kelly Jones shared ways that she challenges very experienced, old-school pilots in the high-tech art of simulation training.

Captain Jones explained her own career trajectory after SUNY Maritime College to become the first Kirby female pilot deployed on the western-river system before joining SCI’s training team three years ago. ADM Schultz asked insightful questions about the unique dynamics of women in today’s maritime workforce, and Captain Jones was able to cite positive examples among her professional female peers who are advancing in blue-water and brown-water jobs.

Captain Jones and I discussed our work as Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) co-trainers and the life-saving skill it brings to the maritime workforce. We outlined the unique work/life balance of river mariners who typically deploy for 28 days in a highly structured vessel environment with zero tolerance for alcohol and firearms before returning home to 14 or 28 unstructured days with occasional family stressors. ADM Schultz commended SCI for its work on suicide prevention and mariner resilience in collaboration with Yale Medicine’s occupational health physicians.

For the second half of the Commandant’s visit, SCI Seafarer Rights Director Doug Stevenson led a discussion about our work since 9/11 to assure adequate shore leave for seafarers amid a world of tightened maritime security. SCI chaplains and Doug played a major calming role with the Port Newark community in the tumultuous days after the World Trade Center tragedy, and Doug actively collaborated with the USCG to develop the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA). Doug briefed ADM Schultz on the two common reasons for denied shore leave access: individual visa challenges and terminal restrictions on safe passage for seafarers. Port of Houston Authority executives joined our discussion to share local details regarding shore-leave access. Everyone agreed that we have made substantial progress in recent years, though everyone could recall recent cases that needed expert intervention.

By happy coincidence, ADM Schultz’s visit came on Doug Stevenson’s last official day of work for SCI after Doug’s own 20-year USCG career and 29 years at SCI. ADM Schultz asked Doug for his top recommendations to strengthen seafarer welfare, offering Doug a final advocacy pitch in his SCI role. Doug responded effortlessly:

1. He recommended that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) view seafarers as part of the “domain awareness” security teams. We need to rely on seafarers knowing their environment and reporting suspicious activity rather than treating seafarers as potential terrorists;

2. He recommended that USA ratify ILO-185, which establishes international standards for seafarers’ identity documents;

3. He recommended that DHS provide regulations waiving crewmember visas for seafarers with valid ILO-185 seafarers’ identity documents; and

4. He recommended the USA ratify the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (now in the hands of Department of Labor). Doug’s advocacy reminds me of a major-league baseball player who hits a grand slam homerun during his final time at bat. It also reminds me of the vital collaboration that happens daily between the USCG and its port partners to assure mariner welfare and the efficient, safe transportation of goods in our brave new world.

Clearly a gregarious man and great maritime leader, ADM Schultz and his aides packed much into their 90 minutes at SCI. We look forward to sustained collaboration in the months and years ahead.

Photos of the visit available for public use with the following notation: "Photos courtesy of the USCG."