The long-awaited towing vessel inspection rule was published Aug. 11, and now that the industry has had some time to digest it, we thought it would be good to get an initial gauge on it.
In what many have described as the most significant regulatory requirement since operators had to become licensed, first impressions appear to be mostly positive. One of the biggest challenges, perhaps, will be to get vessel crews to adhere to a system of written policies and procedures.
Industry groups are sticking to their initial reasons for pushing for the inspection regime — making sure the tug and barge business garners a good reputation for safety and raising the bar of safety for the entire industry.
While I believe that this goal will be accomplished, this complex rulemaking that requires towing vessels to obtain a certificate of inspection within the next years may not go far enough. Namely, will it help reduce the root cause of the majority of accidents — human factors? Will it do enough to address crew fatigue, alertness? What effect do certain work-hour schedules have on performance and what are the Coast Guard’s eventual intentions on hours and manning? What exactly does the Coast Guard mean by redundant systems, and will there be enough auditors? Some in the industry are wondering how it will affect vessel rates and supply.
The industry feels it should be able to comply fairly easily, but implementation is still a concern, with some wondering exactly how it will go down. The system will involve a lot of paperwork, and how will vessel crews have time to deal with it all when on a six-on-six-off schedule? It will also require a big commitment from management.
Stay tuned. The Coast Guard will hold four public meetings (Oct. 18, Norfolk, Va.; Oct. 24, St. Louis; Oct. 26, New Orleans; Nov. 16, Seattle) and there will surely be plenty of comments and concerns voiced at these gatherings. We will report back to you in future blogs on what people said and are saying. Also, keep watch for the October issue of WorkBoat due out later this month, which will include a big feature story on the towing vessel inspection rule.
And be sure to be heard. The public comment period ends on Dec. 9.