ST. LOUIS—Passenger vessel operators minced no words for the new commandant of the Coast Guard: Regulations are killing us.
In his keynote address at the 40th anniversary convention of the Passenger Vessel Association here Sunday, Adm. Robert Papp promised to strengthen partnerships with the marine industry and remain committed to “first-class service” for mariners.
He ticked off the changes the Coast Guard was making to its marine safety program. They include better-trained officers and an increase in civilian inspectors, who eventually will make up a third of the total force. Papp also noted that the average time to process merchant mariner credential applications had dropped from 80 days in 2009 to 18.2 days in 2010 as the service consolidated into its National Maritime Center facility in West Virginia.
“Rightfully, the Coast Guard is concerned about security and safety,” said Papp, who took over in May from retired Adm. Thad Allen. “But we have to be mindful a lot of you have small businesses you’re working very hard to sustain. I know that increased regulations have an impact on your business.”
Two operators made that very clear.
Before 9/11, passenger vessels were “a very robust and financially strong industry,” said Dan Yates, president, Portland Spirit, Portland, Ore. “I think every family-owned business in this room was pretty devastated by the recession. We still have a sea of expensive regulations coming at us. These are real concerns.”
In the past, most operators could handle new rules that required spending a couple of thousand here and there. “Those days are gone,” Yates said. “There really needs to be a very serious cost-benefit analysis. Are we really doing anything to improve safety? We’re creating a very safe industry by not having one.”
Papp said he wanted to pursue regulations not only the right way, but also in a reasonable and pragmatic way. “That comes from my heart,” he said. “You’re just going to have to trust me on this one. We’ll do the cost-benefit analysis.”
Darrell Bryan, CEO of Clipper Navigation Inc., Seattle, said he was shifting one foreign-built vessel to Bahamian flag after first switching to U.S. flag because of a time lag for credentials. Bryan, who pays for all his employees’ mariner credentials and TWIC cards, said the 18-day timeframe cited by Adm. Papp was “not our experience.”
“The second problem I’ve got is a lack of dialogue,” he said. “I’ve told our licensed personnel to apply six months in advance for renewal. It has critical consequences for us. We are all struggling these days. It’s just overpowering right now when you look at the scope and extent of what we are being barraged with.”
After Papp’s address, Bryan said he wasn’t holding out any hope. “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “What happens is the foggy bottom of D.C.”