The top news story of 2011


Each December WorkBoat lists its “Top 10 News Stories” of the year (see page 58)

While there’s never a shortage of material to choose from, the challenge is ranking them from one to 10. It may shock some of you that the spring flooding, which lasted for months and affected millions of people and hundreds of marine businesses, could do no better than second place.

So, what could be more newsworthy than that?

Well, it’s the U.S. Coast Guard’s towing vessel inspection rule. Seven years in the making, this will be the first time that towing vessels will undergo regular inspections. 

The proposed rule will cover 5,208 vessels operated by over 1,000 companies. The cost to operators will be an estimated $14 million to $18 million a year over a phase-in process expected to last a decade.

The Coast Guard held four public meetings this fall to take the industry’s pulse on the proposed rule. And that pulse is racing, if the meeting I attended in New Orleans in October was any indication. 

The room was crowded and about 30 industry people read comments into the record. Most of the comments dealt with overall costs, a level playing field with regard to third-party inspections and crew fatigue.

At least the Coast Guard and industry agree that the time has come for these vessels to be inspected — in the name of safety.

The Coast Guard has worked closely with industry over the last seven years to try to get this right. In no way does it feel like the agency is trying to shove it down the industry’s throat. 

The Coast Guard is listening. It wants your advice.

“We don’t need regulations that don’t address real risks,” Frank Morton, president, Turn Services LLC., commented at the New Orleans meeting. “This will have a large cost impact on us. Consider a much longer grandfathering period.”

It’s easy today to believe that money, and only money, determines whether or not a company, an industry, or an individual job is worth anything.

Yet there was something about the passion in the voices of many who commented in New Orleans that said this is about more than money. This is an industry we care deeply about. 

After what I heard and saw inside that room, however, I’d say the Coast Guard’s estimate of a 10-year phase-in period is optimistic. 

Only time will tell.

  — Ken Hocke 



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