U.S. maritime unions are mobilizing to fight the Reagan administration decision to allow Kuwait to continue to operate 11 tankers under the U.S. flag without U.S.-citizen crews.
Up to 500 jobs are at stake in the dispute that resumed last week when the Coast Guard, at the request of the Defense Department, granted a waiver to the owner of the vessels.The waiver allows continued use of largely alien crews on these ships in order not to undermine the agreement that brought them under the U.S. flag in mid-1987.
That U.S.-Kuwaiti agreement involved enables the ships to enjoy the protection of U.S. naval units in the dangerous Persian Gulf.
Some union officials warned earlier that a suit will be filed to challenge the Coast Guard action. It would be based, in part, on the belief that without a presidential proclamation that a national emergency exists, such a national defense waiver of crewing requirements cannot be issued.
The suit also would reflect the fact that President Reagan, scarcely a month ago, signed into law a bill aimed squarely at the reflagged Kuwaiti tankers.
The legislation was intended to force the owner, Chesapeake Shipping Co., to take on U.S. citizens for 75 percent of each ship's unlicensed personnel and for all the officer complement, even though the ships had never been to a U.S. port. The Defense Department had urged the president to veto the measure.
The Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO, disclosed Friday that a meeting in Bal Harbour, Fla., of representatives of its 44 seafaring member unions, had given unanimous consent to explore every legal and legislative avenue open to us to reverse this arbitrary administration slap at the intent of Congress.
Among the actions to be weighed by a committee of the seagoing unions was a possible lawsuit against the Coast Guard . . . and a request for a congressional investigation, according to Frank Drozak, head of the department and president of the Seafarers' International Union.
The major supporting unions were the Seafarers; the National Maritime Union; Marine Engineers Beneficial Association; the Masters, Mates & Pilots and the Radio Officers Union.
Rep. Mario Biaggi, D-N.Y., a major backer of the tougher manning law, said Friday, It's hard for me to understand the rationale of the Defense Department in granting the waiver of the manning requirement when their own studies continue to decry the sad state of the U.S.-flag merchant marine.