Buckley McAllister is the president of McAllister Towing & Transportation and the outgoing chairman of the American Waterways Operators. New York-based McAllister, one of the oldest and largest marine towing and transportation companies in the U.S., boasts a fleet of more than 75 tugs and barges including about 25 Z-drive/tractor tugs and three ferries. 


WorkBoat:The company’s homeport of New York Harbor sustained significant damage from hurricane Sandy. Did that experience influence your leadership agenda at AWO? 


Buckley McAllister: Hurricane Sandy was a big blow to New York. A number of people lost their lives and homes. Electricity, communications, fuel and a broad range of things we take for granted were knocked out for an extended period. Coming on the heels of 9/11 and the Northeast blackout of 2003, Hurricane Sandy brought home again the importance of making our maritime transportation systems as resilient as they can be. As for our company, a number of our offices were flooded and out of service for extended periods. But resilience is the essence of our business. Our crews worked heroically right through the storm, and our organization was able to pull through without any vessel-related incident, injury or interruption in service to our customers. As we continue to rebuild, we want to make sure that we are in a better position to meet future challenges. To prepare for the unexpected requires real commitment to infrastructure, safety culture and contingency planning. 

At the beginning of my chairmanship at the American Waterways Operators, I said that increasing the resilience of the association was my goal. At the start of my term, we established a new task force on future missions and capacity of AWO. This task force grappled with the issues of how to assure effective maritime industry representation in the rancorous political environment of Washington, D.C., and how best to protect our industry in an increasingly complicated regulatory environment. The task force concluded that AWO should add capacity, specifically in connection with public affairs, regulatory affairs, regional advocacy and safety. Together with some internal reorganization, the task force’s recommendations allow for higher value advocacy and the bench strength needed to deliver on the organization’s strategic goals and plans. The task force’s recommendations were adopted by the AWO board at our fall convention in October. It will take three years to fully implement, but the end result will be a much more resilient and effective trade association.


WB: AWO has been working closely with the Coast Guard on the Subchapter M rulemaking. Is there any particular aspect of the proposed rule that you would like to highlight? 


McAllister: Subchapter M went through the notice and comment process back in 2011. At that time, hundreds of organizations made comments. The Coast Guard now has before it all of the information it needs to move this proposal forward toward a final rule and our industry welcomes that. One of the strongest comments made by the AWO was that a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) be made a consistent requirement of the regulatory regime. In the 2011 draft, a TSMS was optional. That will not serve the goal of marine safety. The AWO has already changed the structure of the third-party auditor certification process under the Responsible Carrier Program in preparation for the implementation of the regulation. We are also considering how the Responsible Carrier Program will need to be amended in order to be approved by the Coast Guard as a Towing Safety Management System. There were a number of technical issues that have been raised regarding the regulation, like independent redundant means of propulsion, steering and related controls or application of new electrical system requirements for existing towing vessels. A lot of detailed technical information has been provided to the Coast Guard to assist it in resolving these matters. We are hopeful that the Coast Guard will make its final decisions on these issues and publish the final towing vessel inspection rule in 2014. 


WB: AWO is also working with the Coast Guard to bring cadets onboard industry vessels. Tell us about it. 


McAllister: McAllister Towing is proud to have participated in this program, hosting cadets Joel Amendolara and Sam Kulp this past summer. With the advent of Subchapter M, the Coast Guard is going to need to train a lot of new inspectors. This program is a great opportunity to familiarize new Coasties with our industry. The cadets commented that they gained a better understanding of vessel traffic, aids to navigation, ship inspections and other Coast Guard missions from the commercial mariner’s perspective. I see a significant benefit to our company too. Some commercial mariners are put on the defensive by the Coast Guard’s enforcement mission. Spending time with the cadets helps our crews see that the Coast Guard is made up of very committed public servants. In the end, we are all really in alignment to make sure that the maritime industry provides a safe, secure, efficient and sustainable mode of transportation to support America’s economy.


WB: What sort of initiatives is AWO pursuing in order to attract a new generation of mariners?  


McAllister: Workforce development is integral to the work of the AWO. We have discussed breaking this item out as a separate priority, but the fact of the matter is that promoting the career path for mariners has always imbued the work of the AWO. The association, as well as our individual member companies, is working more closely with the maritime academies in getting the word out about opportunities available within the industry and seeking ways to collaborate on curriculum and training. One of our top priorities is to ensure the integrity of the Jones Act and make sure that its importance is clearly understood. Every time the AWO goes to bat for the Jones Act, the AWO is working to protect the jobs of U.S. mariners. In 2012, AWO President Tom Allegretti testified before Congress that it was illegal and improper for the Obama administration to grant Jones Act waivers for shipments of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve. He also pointed out that with the waivers, the administration was giving away U.S. jobs to foreigners. Additionally, in public speeches, Tom and I both have reiterated the benefits of a strong domestic maritime industry and the importance of the Jones Act as both a commercial and public policy success. We really cannot emphasize enough the importance of this law and the necessity of a strong domestic maritime fleet. It is the very foundation of our industry, and essential to preserve the benefits we provide to the nation. 

The AWO is also hard at work on licensing issues. From its comments on medical standards for mariner licensing to STCW requirements, the AWO consistently advocates to make sure that licensing regulations are well informed, reasonable and workable. One of the issues that I know concerns WorkBoat readers is the TWIC card process. The AWO and its members have worked hard to make sure that legislators understand the burdens placed on mariners by the TWIC requirements, and to eliminate a second trip to TWIC enrollment centers to pick up cards. The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 now require that the TSA eliminate the second trip. When you add up all of the time spent on picking up TWIC cards, that small legislative victory will make a big contribution to the quality of life of mariners.


WB: What other issues has AWO addressed during your tenure? 


McAllister: The AWO puts serious effort into improving safety and environmental stewardship throughout the industry. As I have gotten more involved with the AWO, I have been really impressed with the deep commitment of its members to foster safety culture at every level of the industry. There is a widely held belief that AWO members should be true safety leaders, and safety and environmental protection are a big priority. It is unusual for a trade association to be so involved in raising operational standards, but that is part of the everyday business at the AWO. Among other things, the membership of the association is moving forward with a mandatory Safety Statistics Reporting Program. With better data, we hope to be able to provide members with another benchmark to continuously improve safety and environmental performance. Nationwide, vessel operators have a lot of work invested in their businesses. I think we all share a goal of making sure that these businesses are sustainable going forward.