Towing vessel inspection goes public

Now it’s the marine industry’s turn.

The U.S. Coast Guard held the first of four public hearings on the proposed rule for towing vessel inspection on Oct. 18 in Newport News, Va., and as expected, federal officials got an earful from those who will be affected most by a new inspection program.

I did not attend but heard from others that it was a productive day of presentations, comments, questions, answers and discussion, set against a convivial partnership between the Coast Guard and industry. A few of the highlights, as described by an attendee, are discussed below.

About 80 people showed up, including representatives of the Coast Guard, vendors, surveyors, admiralty lawyers, mariners and towing companies. Participants came mostly from the Atlantic coastal areas, but several inland operators from Western rivers were also present.

Speaking on behalf of their membership in the towing and barge industry, the American Waterways Operators expressed concerns that the proposed rule puts too much emphasis on a Towing Safety Management System, and would require control systems and new standards for electrical systems and wiring that are “redundant.” AWO, which says it wants to raise safety without imposing unnecessary requirements, also opposed any change to the watch system that would mandate 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep for personnel on towing vessels. They said no watchstanding system for vessels operating round-the-clock in any other maritime sector meets this standard.

Others said that requirements for new equipment should be further justified by a risk-based analysis model. Since the majority of accidents are caused by human error, focusing on expensive equipment to improve safety is inappropriate.

There was essentially no support for the proposed option of having annual vessel inspections done by the Coast Guard as an alternative to implementing a vessel safety management system. Several said it would be ineffective and unfair, and would compromise safety improvements. The safety management system was seen as affordable and feasible for companies to implement, and it should be required for all towing companies and not be an option.

It was also felt that record-keeping under the rule would be overly burdensome, and that requirements to keep health records on employees was confusing and unnecessary.

Hearings will now move across the country, with the next session in St. Louis on Oct. 24, followed by Kenner, La. (New Orleans) on Oct. 26, and Seattle on Nov. 16. For those attending the International WorkBoat Show in New Orleans from Nov. 30-Dec. 2, there will be a presentation by the Coast Guard on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

The public comment period ends Dec. 9.

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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