Towing vessel inspection options: the choices

NEW ORLEANS—What’s the best compliance option under the looming towing vessel inspection rule – an annual Coast Guard boarding or a third party audit of a safety management system?

The answer: It depends.

Operators will have to bet on which will keep them sailing with the fewest headaches.

“I would choose straight Coast Guard inspection,” said Kevin Gilheany, owner of New Orleans-based Maritime Compliance International at an International WorkBoat Show seminar Wednesday. It’s not easy to insure everyone’s totally familiar with a safety management system.

On the other hand, “there will be times your boat will be tied up for a Coast Guard inspection. You won’t be moving. You won’t be making money,” said Capt. Kevin Mullen, an auditor and consultant. But, he added, even an auditor is “going to inconvenience you.”

Unless the deficiency is a showstopper, the Coast Guard probably will give an operator 30 days or until the next drydocking to correct it, Gilheany said. And third party auditors likely will be under the same rules as Coast Guard inspectors.

It’s a matter of numbers, too, said Ryan Bishop, area manager for Germanischer Lloyd. If an operators can do a third party survey “once every two and a half years rather than every year, that looks a little better to me.”

In either case, the recordkeeping requirements for Subchapter M are serious and substantial.

“You know you’re going to have to train no matter how you comply,” said Capt. Robert Russo, Maritime License Training Co., Jacksonville, Fla.

Aimed at improving safety on the nation’s waterways, the rule is one of the most significant for the towing industry since operators were required to be licensed in 1972. It covers about 6,000 towing vessels. Compliance will cost operators an estimated $14 million to $18 million annually over the phase-in period.  Twenty-five percent of a fleet must obtain a certificate of inspection each year.

The Coast Guard can’t give a publication date for the final rule that’s been in the works for years.

The recordkeeping requirements are critical.

Be sure to follow all the rules, Rocky Marchiano, director, maritime compliance for Baker, Lyman & Co. Inc. said as a warning to anyone who thought the only sin was falsifying records. “If you fail to maintain a log, the Coast Guard has the statutory authority to cite you, and the Department of Justice can prosecute you,” he said.


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