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So, I would definitely say with the Coast Guard hearing units out of the picture the number of cases would disappear to a minimum.
I will go further than that. From time to time we have an unfortunate marine disaster. Who does the Coast Guard call upon then for its outstanding counsel! Who did the Coast Guard have as their senior judges and examiners in the case of the fire on board the Erickson? Two former merchant marine officers. There is no question about it, these questions go beyond the scope of men who have not sailed aboard a merchant ship. If a man is brought up on deck before a man who has sailed on merchant ships, he knows whether there is any lying; and another thing, the average seaman has to go outside and get counsel. In many cases the unions do not get counsel because ther believe this is not a matter for attorneys and not a matter of law. This is a matter of conditions involving life on ships, because if a man is delinquent, he is delinquent, and ought not to resort to legal loopholes to get out of it.
Jir. KEFAUVER. Would you mind if I asked you a question, Captain? Mr. Chairman, may I ask?
Mr. GRAHAM. Certainly.
Mr. KEFAUVER. These hearings units, how many members do they consist of?
Captain Ash. The majority of them consist of one judge and jury. He is the senior judge and prosecutor. The prosecutor may often be the investigator.
Mr. KEFAUVER. What is the usual rank of the Coast Guard officer?
Captain Ash. Depending upon the seriousness of the case. I would say the majority of them, the ranking officer would be a lieutenant. Mr. KEFAUVER. Do they wear uniforms when they hold hearings? Captain Asu. Not in all cases. Very, very seldom since the war.
Mr. KEATING. It was very much better so far as you are concerned before 1943 when these hearings were not being conducted by the Coast Guard ?
Captain Asu. Yes, sir.
Captain Ash. I have two more notes I would like to cover very briefly.
Mr. GRAHAM. Proceed then.
Mr. LEWIS. Who was responsible for placing the merchant marine under the Coast Guard ?
Captain Ash. Under the Second War Powers Act, when it was necessary to place all vessels of war under Navy control, particularly the convoying of cargo and vessels. The administration of inspection, port security control, that was all turned over to the Navy, who twined it over to the Coast Guard.
Mr. LEWIS. That was during the war?
Mr. Lewis. This is peace, or at least we are not shooting any more.
Captain Asii. That is right, sir. Mr. Lewis. How does it come the Coast Guard still has jurisdiction?
Captain Ash. We do not know. We want to know why it has not gone back to the Department of Commerce where we feel it rightfully belongs.
Mr. Lewis. By "we" you mean the merchant marine?
Mr. KEFAUVER. Do you think the officers of the merchant marine would feel the way the men do, or do they differ with the position of the men, or do you know?
Captain Ash. I do not understand your question. Do you mean the officers on the ships feel the Coast Guard should be out of the merchant marine?
Mr. KEFAUVER. Yes.
Captain Ash. The answer is an emphatic yes. They have gone on record for it by a referendum vote many times. I mean the merchant marine.
Mr. KEFAUVER. You are a captain? Captain Ash. I have been in command of ships in the early part of the war and the latter part of the war. At the beginning of the war I was executive officer at both officer candidate schools for the merchant marine, which we took over from the Coast Guard. We were continually having difficulties with the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard had embarked on a program of raising the professional standards of the men. To that we subscribed. However, that could be done during peacetime. We advocated that. We were caught between two problems; one, to teach the men what would be required to know of the Coast Guard requirements and, two, teach them what they would have to know to be of use to the master of a ship. We were continually going down to the Coast Guard to get revisions.
I have had the unique opportunity to have handled those men. The biggest majority of the merchant marine officers are men that have been brought up before the forecastle. Starting with the day of issuing wartime certificates they were hastily trained. We were sure they would have had some experience under the department regulations and a minimum amount of time was required before you could stand for the next highest grade, and only as of a few days ago a rule came out these wartime regulations would be discontinued, effecive May 1.
Captain Richmond 'has stated, I believe they had hearing units in foreign countries. During the war many ships did not come back for months, just shuttled back and forth across the channel, coastwise. It was necessary to establish offices in foreign countries. Now I am sure it is not going to be necessary much longer and we will have absolutely no use or need for maintaining Coast Guard offices in foreign countries. I cannot see any purpose for it.
Mr. Lewis. How long have you been on the sea ?
Captain Ash. I started going to sea, sir, in 1927. I sailed as a deck boy for the munificent sum of $20 a month. I received my first license as a third officer in 1933 and continued to work up and received my first master's license in 1939.
Mr. KEATING. But you were a master until last year!
Captain Ash. The last vessel I left was October 17. I had been in command pretty steadily.
Mr. GRAHAM. I hate to break this meeting up.
Gentlemen, after consultation with fellow members we can meet on Friday, May 2. We can start at 10:30.
(Whereupon, at 12:10 p. m., the subcommittee adjourned until 10:30 a. m., Friday, May 2, 1947.)
CONDUCT OF DISCIPLINARY HEARINGS BY COAST
GUARD COMMISSIONED OFFICERS
FRIDAY, MAY 2, 1947
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D. C. The subcommittee met at 10:30 a. m., pursuant to adjournment, in room 315, Old House Office Building, Hon. Louis E. Graham (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. GRAHAM. The committee will come to order, please.
In order to accommodate Mr. Volpian, who resides in New York, we are going to take him out of order so that he may be free to go when he has to. Mr. Volpian. STATEMENT OF JOSEPH H. VOLPIAN, WELFARE CHAIRMAN, SEA
FARERS INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA Mr. VOLPIAN. Mr. Chairman, my name is Joseph H. Volpian. I am chairman of the Seafarers International Union of North America and reside in New York.
The Seafarers International Union of North America number approximately 90,000 unlicensed seagoing personnel whose sole means of livelihood are derived from their service on merchant vessels, which sail on all oceans and the Great Lakes. Our membership has a very real interest in the proposed bill, H. R. 2966. The writer of this brief has been in charge of the welfare department of the union since 1943. His office is at the union headquarters in the city of New York. Part of his duties as welfare officer includes his appearance before the Coast Guard hearing units on behalf of accused seamen. He has appeared in at least 200 cases of alleged misconduct before the Coast Guard. The writer is present at the request of his union to oppose the passage of the above bill.
The union is as much interested in disciplining its members for infractions of the rules and laws aboard vessels as are the Coast Guard and the operators of the ships. We have a set-up in our constitution where anybody who is charged with misconduct aboard a ship can be tried and punished according to the gravity of his offense. We realize that when a seaman does not perform his duties as he should, it places an extra burden on his fellow crew members and at the same time injures the reputation of the union of which we are all proud. The writer has been going to sea since 1923 and has sailed in the black gang or engine room department of ships during this time. He has come to know seamen, being one himself. He is familiar with the
duties of the officers and the problems that exist aboard ships and, therefore, can, without fear of contradiction, speak upon maritime matters from the viewpoint of the unlicensed personnel.
The merchant marine has always been a civilian occupation long before our government was formed. The only time it might have been considered an arm of the military was during the last two wars when it came under the jurisdiction of the Navy. It differs from a military organization in that there is no drafting or enlistment among the men. A seaman can sign for one trip and at the termination of the voyage quit or make another trip if he sees fit. If his superior officer does not choose to employ him for a further trip, he can let the man go. There are no provisions made for pensions or any other benefits that a soldier or sailor would be entitled to as a result of being a member of the armed services.
The United States merchant marine has always been under the jurisdiction of the Department of Commerce. This, in our opinion, is the proper place where it belongs because all the activities of the merchant marine has been in aiding the exchange of goods through water-borne commerce from one country to another and from one coast to the other.
The Congress has passed certain laws which have been on our books for many years, whereby adequate provisions have been made to enforce discipline. For instance, if a crew member without permission stays ashore one day from the vessel, the master is allowed to “log” or fine him 2 day's pay for the day he missed. There is a logging or penalty provided for every infraction of the rules. In addition, if the offense is serious, the master can place the man in irons and feed him on bread and water for as long as he sees fit. The master may restrict a seaman to the vessel and not allow him shore liberty to which he would be entitled when the ship reaches a foreign port. If in the event a seaman misses his vessel, he immediately forfeits all his pay together with all his personal belongings. No where else in the world are such strict penalties imposed, for these infractions. If a person who works ashore fails to appear on his job for a day, all he loses is his day's pay. If he decides to quit the job for some reason, he does not forfeit his back pay or his personal belongings but is entitled to them regardless. The law also provides that the master is in sole command of the ship and all of his crew is answerable to him. The law, while being very strict in its provisions, has been adequate to handle all problems that arise on a vessel. In addition, a seaman is answerable if he commits a felony to the Federal authorities and is subject to severe fines and imprisonment if he violates the law.
At the inception of the last war, the late President of the United States, realizing that victory could not be attained except with the cooperation of the merchant marine and to expedite the transfer of war goods to our allies, placed it under the jurisdiction of the Navy. This was not done to discipline seamen because discipline has always been maintained on merchant vessels, but it was done primarily for the purpose of the movement of ships where the military authorities deemed they were necessary.
The Coast Guard, likewise, which is regularly attached to the Treasury Department, was also put under the jurisdiction of the Navy and the Navy turned the merchant marine over to the Coast Guard.
With victory won, the Coast Guard was turned back to the Treasury Department, but it refused to relinquish its hold on the merchant marine but instead, is trying to keep it under its own jurisdiction. There is a very good reason for this attitude.
During the war, the Coast Guard became top heavy with admirals, captains, commanders, and lieutenant commanders. Some of these people are desirous of holding on to their positions, knowing full well that they could not get comparable salaries and conditions in civilian life as they receive by being officers in the Coast Guard. More "brass." in the Coast Guard means that they must find some excuse to justify keeping these officers in the service. In short, it is desirous of maintaining its hold on the merchant marine to keep these men in their positions. All this means that the taxpayers will be required to spend unnecessary millions of dollars because not only are these extra officers required, but likewise, a full office force must be maintained, such as stenographers and clerks, all of which has heretofore been handled by the Department of Commerce at a fraction of what it would cost if the Coast Guard took over.
It is well known that the United States Coast Guard is a military organization. It was formed for the purpose of saving lives at sea along our coasts. It has done a commendable job and in the writer's opinion, it should devote all its time and attention to just this service as no other group can perform these duties as well as the Coast Guard.
From what we have read and learned, there is no civilian occupation or industry under the authority of a military organization during peacetime. It is repugnant to all our concepts of freedom and liberty. The founders of this country have rightly placed the President of the United States, a civilian, as head of the armed forces, as it is well known that the attitude of the military is far different from that of the civilian. There is an almost indescribable caste system amongst the armed forces. The officers look down on the ordinary soldier or sailor and in the same way, the officers of the Coast Guard have shown no sympathy to the merchant seaman.
During the war, the Coast Guard set up what it called "hearing units" for the purpose of further disciplining seagoing personnel in addition to the penalties provided by law as outlined above. These units work somewhat in this fashion. An officer would examine the logbook and speak to the officers of the vessel concerning any infractions. Assuming a seaman was guilty of coming aboard ship an hour late, this would be entered in the logbook and the man would be fined by the master. The investigating officer would then issue a subpena to the man notifying him to appear at the office of the Coast Guard. In the meantime, his wages would be held up contrary to law as provided in the statutes that a seaman receive his pay within 48 hours after the vessel discharges its cargo. He would then appear before the investigating officer who, just reading the logbook, determines if the man should be tried. If he finds in the affirmative, he then issues a set of charges or an indictment and informs him that he can get counsel and that he can subpena his witnesses. By the time this advice is given to the seaman, his shipmates, having been paid off, scatter to all parts of the country and it is a virtual impossibility to procure witnesses in his own behalf. The investigating oflicer then takes over the role of examining officer or prosecuting attorney. He chooses his