Friday, March 1, 2013

United Grain Locks Out Union Dockworkers

United Grain Corp., which operates an export terminal at the Port of Vancouver in Washington State, locked out its longshore workers this week, saying that an investigation found that a union leader sabotaged terminal equipment, a charge the union strongly denies.

“We cannot risk further vandalism that might disrupt safety or impede operations. Therefore this morning we notified the union of our intention to operate the terminal without ILWU labor,” United Grain President and CEO Gary Schuld said Feb. 27.

An investigator hired by United Grain is said to have found out through video surveillance and other evidence, that a leader with International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 4 intentionally sabotaged equipment, resulting in $105,000 in damages, according to the terminal operator.

United Grain, a subsidiary of Japanese trading company Mitsui, says it terminated the unidentified employee Feb. 26 and has turned over the investigator’s report and evidence to law enforcement for possible criminal prosecution. The company also says it intends to continue operating the terminal with management personnel and replacement workers.

The lockout is believed to affect between 40 and 50 ILWU members, dozens of whom began picketing the United Grain terminal within hours after the lockout was announced. The union is disputing the sabotage allegation, calling it “unfounded” and a response to difficult labor contract talks.

It also claims the lockout is a violation of US labor law.

“United Grain and its Japanese owners at Mitsui have failed to negotiate in good faith with the men and women of the ILWU for months and instead chose to aggressively prepare for a lockout,” Jennifer Sargent, the union’s Coast Longshore Division Communications Director, said.

Sargent went on to call the sabotage story “fabricated” as an excuse to lock out the workers rather than work toward reaching a new labor contract.

The sabotage allegation and lockout are the latest twists in months of contract negotiations between the union and Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association, which represents UGC and other terminal operators in Washington and Oregon.

The Pacific Northwest Grain Handlers Association represents three companies: United Grain, which has an export terminal at the Port of Vancouver; Columbia Grain, which operates a Port of Portland terminal; and LD Commodities, operator of facilities in Portland and Seattle.

The association also represented TEMCO, which has facilities in Kalama, Portland and Tacoma, however the TEMCO and the union recently reached a contract agreement, which is expected to be signed March 9.

The Grain Handlers Association began negotiations with the union in early September 2012, weeks prior to the previous contract’s Sept. 30 expiration date, seeking a contract similar to what was worked out between management and longshore workers at the Port of Longview in early 2012 for the port’s EGT grain terminal. The contract includes several cost-saving measures.

However, the ILWU has said it won’t budge on some concessions the owners want, such as 12-hour work shifts, an ability to bypass the union hiring hall and being given greater control over the ability to fire dockworkers.

FMC Approves Cruise Line Financial Rules

The Federal Maritime Commission has approved measures designed to strengthen customer protections and reduce financial responsibility requirements for smaller cruise lines. The measures were announced Feb. 22 and were approved during the commission’s most recent meeting.

Under law, cruise lines must file adequate evidence of financial responsibility to help ensure that passengers can obtain reimbursement in the event a cruise is not performed. The Commission’s new rule increases the maximum coverage requirement from $15 million to $30 million per cruise line and requires that the cap be adjusted every two years based on the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers.

The coverage requirement increase, according to the Maritime Commission, reflects the effects of inflation and the growth of the cruise industry since the current $15 million cap was set in 1990. The rule also provides relief to smaller cruise lines by recognizing the existence of additional forms of financial protection.

“I am pleased that, after more than 20 years, the Commission has taken long overdue action to address increased performance coverage required in light of the growth of unearned passenger revenue in the hands of cruise operators,” FMC Chair Richard A. Lidinsky, Jr. said. “I am especially delighted that the Commission has developed a mechanism to reduce the regulatory burden on smaller operators while maintaining adequate protection for passengers.”

In a separate action during the same Feb. 13 meeting, the Commission approved for public comment a proposed rule that would require foreign-based unlicensed Non-Vessel-Operating Common Carriers to register with the Commission and expands a current tariff rate publication exemption that would allow foreign-based, unlicensed NVOCCs to enter into negotiated rate arrangements in lieu of publishing a rate for cargo shipments in its tariff.

“I also am pleased that we have moved to consider extending to foreign unlicensed NVOCCs the regulatory relief provided more than two years ago to licensed NVOCCs,” Lidinsky said. “As we move forward, I would hope that the Commission will undertake further review of its regulations governing ocean transportation intermediaries in order to make them more effective while providing further relief from unnecessary regulations.”

Canadian Government Announces Shipbuilding Contracts

The Canadian government, as part of its National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, or NSPS, has agreed to about $15 million in preliminary contracts for joint support ships, the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker polar icebreaker and offshore fisheries science vessels.

The joint support ships will replace the Royal Canadian Navy’s auxiliary oiler replenishment vessels. The CCGS John G. Diefenbaker is a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker being built by Seaspan Marine Corp. It’s expected to join the fleet in 2017, with delivery coinciding with the decommissioning of the Canadian Coast Guard’s heavy icebreaker, the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent.

The offshore fisheries science vessels are intended to replace the CCGS Teleost, the Alfred Needler and the W.E. Ricker.

“The joint support ships will be a critical tool for achieving success in both international and domestic Canadian Armed Forces missions,” Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, Associate Minister of National Defense and Member of Parliament for Delta–Richmond East, said in a statement. “We are committed to the complex work of rebuilding our Royal Canadian Navy’s surface fleet, creating high-quality marine sector jobs and to getting the job done right.”

As part of the NSPS, Vancouver Shipyards Co. will assist in the progression and assessment of the joint support ship design options; initiate a review of the polar icebreaker design and refine the offshore fisheries science vessel design and specifications; and produce construction plans and determine requirements for material, subcontractors and labor.

“The (Canadian) Government created the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy to support Canadian jobs and industries, while bolstering the Canadian economy by building ships right here in Canada,” Rona Ambrose, Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women, said in a statement. “Industry analysts have estimated that our shipbuilding strategy will contribute 15,000 jobs from coast to coast to coast and over $2 billion in annual economic benefits over the next 30 years.”

Jensen Designs Tugs, Barge for Harley Marine

Jensen Maritime, the Seattle-based naval architecture and marine engineering subsidiary of Crowley Maritime Corp., recently completed the designs of two new ASD tugs based on the Valor tugboat design, and a 250-foot x 70-foot x 15-foot, 8-inch deck barge for Seattle-based marine transportation provider Harley Marine.

The tugs, named Robert Franco and Ahbra Franco, are to provide tanker escort and ship assist services along the U.S. West Coast. The barge, Iliuliuk Bay, is expected to transport a wide variety of cargo between Dutch Harbor and Akutan, Alaska, with up to three runs weekly.

The Robert Franco and Ahbra Franco are under construction at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders, of Freeland, Washington and are expected to be delivered in March and July respectively.

The Iliuliuk Bay is also under construction by US Fab, in Vigor’s Swan Island shipyard in Portland, Oregon. It’s scheduled for delivery later this year.

Jensen designed the two new tugboats along the lines of the Nichols-built Valor, but upgraded them with Tier 3 Cat 3516C engines and Rolls-Royce US 255 Z-drives. The tugs will also feature an anchor windlass and chain locker, as well as a Markey TES-40 winch as well as 900 GPM fire pumps and monitors, powered from an on-board generator. Ice plating has also been added to the hulls to ensure safety while working in light ice conditions.

The Iliuliuk Bay will house a 230-ton lift capacity Manitowoc 4100 crawler crane. The vessel’s design features both D-rings to secure containers up to three high as well as eight lashing bars for other cargo such as heavy construction machinery or general equipment.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Safety First at Foss

While the waterfront has become much safer over the years, working on the water can be inherently dangerous. But Al Rainsberger says it doesn’t have to be. Rainsberger, Director of Health and Safety at Foss Maritime, is responsible for developing and implementing safety programs in the company’s various regions and at the shipyards in Seattle and Rainier, Oregon. Under his guidance, Foss has implemented a series of safety programs, including the behavior-based safety process that goes by the name of Shipmate Plus. “The Shipmate Plus system is the application of science to real world events,” Rainsberger says. “The program asks, what do they do? Why? How do you improve the system?

Rainsberger’s career as a safety professional began at Seattle’s Todd Pacific Shipyards in 1979. He was promoted to the position of safety director in 1990 and spent 16 years overseeing the safety practices of the yard before joining Foss in 2006. He launched the successful Shipmate program at the operating regions in 2009 to mirror the existing Behavior Based Safety process in the shipyards,
An immediate result of the new program was a steep reduction in lost time incidents, and the marine side has had only three lost time cases in the past three years. “Still not acceptable” stated Rainsberger, “the target and goal is zero”.

Shipmate Plus is a Behavior Based Safety Process, developed with the help of Ojai, Calif.-based Behavioral Science Technology. The program is based on the idea that worker behavior, as opposed to equipment failure, is the most common cause of accidents. Workers have been trained to observe their co-workers performing everyday tasks. Using a checklist, the observers take note of what they perceive to be safe and at risk behaviors. The results of the observation are then shared with supervisors and other workers in hopes of improving the way the particular task is performed. The safety department uses the reports to look for recurring issues and correct them. A safety observation goes something like this:
The tugboat Captain initiates a Shipmate Plus observation exercise, and the crew is instructed to review the task and watch for good and at risk safety behaviors. The shipmates observe the task or job process, and then review the process and record the behaviors observed on a special one-page check-off form.

Both safe and at risk work tasks and best practices are identified, and the forms are submitted to the main office where the data are entered into a database. From there, shoreside staff analyzes the observations that could create or revise policy and procedures.

If high-risk behavior is noted during the observation, a near miss/safety observation form can be submitted in addition to the standard form, the data is entered and the appropriate manager acts upon the issue. The check-off forms are analyzed quarterly by the safety department and a summary is sent out to all tugboats and barges.

“The process is very straightforward,” Rainsberger says, “and involves communicating with all of the employees.” As a result of the process, the crew can identify, mitigate and hopefully eliminate hazards.
The observation process is important, and hinges on the concept that the observations are anonymous. “Shipmate Plus is shipmates looking out for each other,” Rainsberger says, “No name, no blame.” The mariners know the process is not meant as a basis for discipline, but recognize that the data must be collected to analyze the results, and an observed at-risk behavior can warrant a revision to policy or procedure that removes the opportunity or temptation to act in an at risk manner going forward. “If there are 100 observations and 95 are perfect, we look for patterns in the five that aren’t.”

Any process, no matter how large or small is observed, from routine towing and hardhat use to working over the side of the vessel. The program promotes a lower risk of injury, and fewer injuries leads to more efficient production and higher morale.

“Looking at safety glasses, for example,” Rainsberger says. “Of 300 observations on safety glasses, 290 are safe, but ten are deemed at risk.” Shipmate Plus looks at why there are ten incidents regarding safety glasses. Did they fog up? Were they broken? Are they just not comfortable enough? Or did someone drop them over the side?

“We can address the issue if we know what it is,” Rainsberger says, adding that praise for proper procedure is as important as identifying the risks. “We promote the good practices and identify and improve on at risk practices,” he says.

The safety program is not only important to Foss, but also to the company’s clients, who have their own systems in place, and expect the companies with which they do business to be as proactive.

The employees are the most obvious beneficiaries of good safety practices, but the company’s clients require safety programs for themselves as well as the companies with which they do business. “Many of the larger companies will ask if you have a Behavior Based Safety Process in place,” says Rainsberger.

The Behavior Based Safety process is in its tenth year on the shipyard side, and Shipmate Plus is entering its fifth year on the tug and barge fleet. “It’s important that people lay a foundation for safety,” Rainsberger says. “Shipmate Plus is not the silver bullet that makes a safety program successful”. All the elements of previous safety initiatives were in place to set the foundation for Shipmate Plus, including communications on accident investigations, lessons learned and near miss reporting.

The first thing you need is a commitment from senior leadership,” says Rainsberger. He has that commitment at Foss. “Foss wants mariners to stay healthy and go home to their families in the same shape as they came to work. A place of employment where you would want your own children to work.”