Radio officers on U.S.-flag ships are seeking support from the European Community Commission in the face of a renewed bid by U.S. shipowners to eliminate their jobs.
The American Radio Officers Association, one of two unions representing U.S. radio operators, met with the commission's maritime safety officials last week to urge a continued role for radio officers in on-board electronic maintenance.Most EC nations allowed their shipowners to eliminate radio officers beginning in February 1992 when a new electronic maritime distress system came on line.
The move was sanctioned by the International Maritime Organization and was followed by most other maritime nations. It has weakened the case of U.S. radio officers, said Richard L. Bragg, a union official.
While U.S. shipowners will point to the competitive advantage gained by EC owners to press their case to eliminate radio officers on their ships, Japan still requires shipboard radio electronics officers, Mr. Bragg said.
He said that the union does not expect EC nations to go back on their decision to eliminate radio officers, but it wants the commission to support moves to ensure that qualified radio officers "wearing another hat" should be on board to repair equipment and handle communications during an emergency.
This would free captains and officers to handle other operations such as firefighting and damage control during an emergency. Shipowners claim technological advancements, including ship-to-satellite transmitters and snap- in circuit boards, have vastly improved communications and rendered radio officers obsolete.
The union's case has been helped by two large oil spills off Spain and Britain in the last two months, Mr. Bragg said.
"Six months ago, people thought on-board electronic maintenance wasn't required," he added.
But now, underwriters, especially from the protection and indemnity clubs, are uneasy about cover for ships without a radio officer, he said. Owners would face higher premiums if it were proved that the absence of a radio officer had contributed to an accident.
The union wants the commission to press for better training for seafarers who handle sophisticated communications systems on ships. At present, training courses for captains and officers last only a week or two and are "marginal at best," according to Mr. Bragg.
The union official, who is attending an International Maritime Organization meeting on watchkeeping and safety in London this week,expressed confidence that the commission will support the union's fight for tougher rules for onboard maintenance.
The union will help to set up meetings between EC maritime safety officials and their U.S. counterparts, Mr. Bragg said.