Regulatory Roundup

Kevin Gilheany What makes a good marine inspector?

June 20, 2013

I have heard many opinions from vessel operators on what makes a good Coast Guard marine inspector.

The majority say that good inspectors apply common sense” in enforcing regulations, or that they do not necessarily follow the book. I disagree.

The truth is, enforcing prescriptive regulations has very little to do with applying common sense. Enforcing performance- or management-based regulations is a different story altogether, but we’ll save that for a later blog.  

While some regulations seem to be drafted without “common sense,” the authority to waive them is above an inspector’s pay grade. If an inspector is not knowledgeable of the regulations they are charged with enforcing, or is not thorough or consistent in enforcing them, the person is not doing anyone any favors.

A recent tragedy reminds us of the important role of the government inspector. On June 5, a building collapsed in Philadelphia killing six people. According to news reports, a city building inspector had been to the site on Feb. 12 and Feb. 25. He returned to the site on May 14, responding to a citizen’s complaint about the demolition project taking place on the building next door to the one that collapsed. Reportedly, the inspector found the complaints unfounded. On June 12, seven days after the deadly collapse, the inspector’s body was found in his vehicle where he had died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Though tragic, this event provides an opportunity to reflect on the essential role of the government inspector.

All marine inspectors, and civilians who intend to become third party surveyor and auditors under Subchapter M, should read Edward T. O’Donnell’s excellent book, “Ship Ablaze.” The book tells the account of the Steamboat General Slocum, which caught fire in the East River on June 15, 1904. It resulted in the loss of over 1,000 men, women and children. The vessel had been inspected and certified as seaworthy only six weeks before the fire by Inspector Henry Lundberg of the U.S. Steamboat Inspection Service (an agency that was later incorporated into the U.S. Coast Guard).

After the investigation, it was determined that much of the fire fighting and lifesaving equipment on board was inadequate, and it was reported that fire drills were not conducted. Inspector Lundberg was convicted of criminal negligence for his failure to enforce federal regulations. The captain of the General Slocum was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years hard labor in Sing Sing prison.

A government regulatory inspector is a serious and noble profession, and one that should not be taken lightly. Coast Guard marine inspectors are highly trained professionals with extensive on-the-job and classroom training.

A “good” inspector, or a third party acting as one, is one who is extremely knowledgeable, thorough, and consistent. Companies fortunate enough to get a good inspector should consider themselves well served.


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