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Posted: May 16, 2014

Turnover of the Watson Class LMSRs - the real story

Six of the eight Watson Class LMSRs have been turned over to Patriot Contract Services, which was awarded the operating contract for the ships by Military Sealift Command last October. The Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, one of the two officers' unions that Patriot has contracts with, reported yesterday: "Preparations are being made for crewing the final two vessels. So far everything has proceeded well and on schedule."

The real story is, of course, much different and supports the criticism leveled at MSC by American Maritime Officers following the announcement of the contract award to Patriot.

AMO members on the LMSRs have reported a large portion of the officers represented by MEBA and Masters, Mates and Pilots reporting to the ships are retirees. Very few of the new officers have any prior LMSR experience and many of them claim to have accepted their positions for a short period, after which they plan to return to retirement. Many of the engineering officers reporting to the ships have little or no gas turbine experience.

AMO deck and engineering officers report being the targets of heavy-handed recruiting efforts by Patriot, and MEBA engineers have come aboard carrying MEBA membership applications for the purpose of soliciting AMO officers to join MEBA.

Not long after the USNS Sisler was turned over to Patriot, the sewage tank blew up under the management of the ship's new MEBA engineering department, resulting in most of the officers and crew having to be berthed ashore. I suppose that opened the tab for unforeseen expenses.

Below are just a couple of the observations that have been sent to me by AMO officers during the turnover of the Watson Class LMSRs:

"If I had not lost faith in how our government works I have now. The Gas Turbine experience of these 3 MEBA engineers you could put in a thimble. With the amount of visibility and responsibility of the Watson Class platforms it really is a shame this decision was made. At least half the officers had been brought out of retirement with one not having sailed in 8 years. Their plan was one trip to replenish the bank account and back into retirement."

"Patriot tried to recruit all of us. All answers were thanks, but no thanks. If anything I do believe this has brought the AMO membership even closer together. We were raised right in this union. MEBA had the opinion, and it was stated, 'We are operating engineers only, we order tech assist'."

MSC's LMSR shipyard plan is to have the ship towed 'dead ship' by five tugs into the dry dock and towed out 'dead ship' by five tugs to a wet berth. This is what happens when you award a contract to a company that employs engineers who can't start the engines.

The first training bills from the MEBA and MM&P schools should have been received at Patriot by now, and may be arriving at MSC by armored truck pretty soon. Someone is going to have a lot of explaining to do.

A smart person might deduce that MSC would be reconsidering the decision to award this contract to Patriot. A smart person would, in this case, be wrong. Instead, MSC sent a high level official on an around-the-world trip. His mission seemed to be bad-mouthing me for correctly predicting everything that is now happening onboard these ships. He is insisting MSC will do whatever it takes to make this contract work.

Sadly for the national security of the United States, I believe it.

Tom Bethel
National President