Maritime regs: Drowning in red tape

Last week Congress held an interesting hearing on the effect of increasing federal regulations on the maritime industry.

This was a real eye-opener about just how many mandates that the industry must comply with. While many of these rules appear to be sensible in that they protect the environment, maritime workers, passengers and national security, the sheer complexity of the regulations and the timing of them impose time-consuming and expensive burdens.

According to a brief by the House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee, here are some of the major maritime industry rulemakings:

  • Final rule on ballast water discharge. The intent is to control introduction of non-indigenous species from ships into U.S. waters. This is particularly a problem in the Great Lakes. New vessels built after Dec. 1, 2013, would have to install ballast water treatment technology.
  • Towing vessel inspection. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published in August 2011, and the Coast Guard is now analyzing more than 2,000 public comments before finalizing this rulemaking. Over a 10-year period, the Coast Guard estimates that the rulemaking could cost the industry $130 million.
  • TWIC. Paying for and applying for this security credential has been a part of doing business now for several years, but the industry is still waiting for the final rule on deployment of TWIC readers that will verify the cards. The Coast Guard now estimates that the rule would affect only 38 vessels and 532 facilities and cost about $186 million over 10 years. The final rule is expected in December.
  • Notice of Arrival and AIS systems. The Coast Guard is proposing to expand the notice of arrival and departure and automatic identification system requirements to more commercial vessels. Final rule expected in December.
  • Non-tank Response Plans. As required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the Coast Guard published an NPRM in 2009 to require the owners and operators of nontank vessels greater than 400 gross tons that carry fuel oil to prepare and submit oil spill response plans. The final rule is expected soon.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are also new rules pending on cruise vessel safety and security, cargo preference, survival craft and vessel discharge permits. And regulations are evolving on mariner training and manning.

One of the more frustrating aspects of the federal rulemaking process is how long it takes. It can often be years before a proposal finally becomes a final rule, which makes it extremely difficult for maritime companies to plan ahead for expenses and plan for compliance.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Ca., subcommittee chair, was correct when he said that the federal government — namely the Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration — has vast authority to regulate the industry but must do so “in a manner that is fair and does not stifle competition and job growth.”

The subcommittee has scheduled a second hearing on Oct. 10 to review environmental regulations facing the maritime industry.


About the author

Pamela Glass

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.

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