COVID actions testing relationship between MSC, civilian crews
Professional Mariner|October - November 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the planet in March, a “gangway up” order by the Military Sealift Command (MSC) restricted thousands of civilian mariners to U.S. Navy vessels around the world.
Nick Keppler

Five months later, “civmars” are feeling stressed, neglected and chained to their jobs — if not actually physically confined — by a complexity of coronavirus-related circumstances.

Meanwhile, their unions are pursuing a grievance with the MSC, hoping to recover penalty pay for the hours they spent stuck on ships, and also to send a message that stranding civmars on vessels — while Navy personnel and contractors came and went freely — was unacceptable.

“Pay is the only thing we can request as a grievance,” said Tracy Burke, the government fleet representative for the Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association.

The MEBA and two other seafarer unions hope the MSC will pay an hourly rate for the time the mariners were in port, some just a few miles from their homes, but were ordered not to leave their vessels. The larger point: “If they hadn’t restricted only the civmars, there wouldn’t be an issue,” Burke said.

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