Crying wolf over regulations

Sometimes I feel like the boy who cried wolf.

I study all the maritime-related regulations and policies and warn my clients about the severe consequences from noncompliance. All too often my bark is much worse than the bite due to minimal or nonexistent enforcement. But when they do bite, it hurts. It hurts not only because of the penalty, but also from a sense of injustice.

Vessel owners wonder why they are being singled out. It was never an issue before, they say. For whatever reason, selective enforcement is a reality that we must live with.

But every regulation that is ignored, or complied with in a half-assed manner is a roll of the dice. To be fair, there are many workboat companies that choose to minimize risk by accepting responsibility and making sure they get it right. However, there is no denying that the “wait-and-see” strategy works and has worked for many years.

Recently I have noticed a shift in the industry that is customer rather than government driven. Customer audits are proving to be a much greater motivator towards compliance and conformance than government enforcement. This is most apparent in the red-flag industry. Some companies are imposing the requirements of OCIMF SIRE (Oil Companies International Marine Forum, Ship Inspection Report Program) and TMSA (Tanker Management Self Assessment) on their towing vessel subcontractors. Additionally, new BSEE regulations require offshore industry subcontractors, including vessel operators, to include the specific policies and procedures of the offshore operator in the subcontractor’s safety management system.

Compliance is key to profitability in the maritime industry. It used to be that compliance helped a company save money by avoiding fines and costly compliance errors. Now, compliance can actually help a company make money. Companies that can satisfy these more stringent requirements will be in an excellent position moving forward. The changes being required by oil and offshore majors make Subchapter M look like small beans.

I hope that smaller operators are not scared off by this. Complying with all these requirements is an achievable goal, as long as a company has the commitment to compliance on all levels, a strategy to get into compliance and stay in compliance, and the leadership and management skills necessary to execute that strategy.

And remember, in the fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” the wolf eventually showed up with devastating consequences.


About the author

Kevin Gilheany

Kevin Gilheany is a marine consultant and owner of Maritime Compliance International in New Orleans. He works with companies to help increase profitability through improved compliance and management systems. Gilheany is a retired U.S. Coast Guard marine inspector, certified marine surveyor and auditor, and crew endurance management expert. He has also provided contract training to the U.S. Coast Guard, was an adjunct instructor of maritime security at Tulane University’s Homeland Security Studies Program, and has contributed to marine industry publications. He can be reached at or

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