The Coast Guard: Room for improvement?

The Coast Guard is making me mad. Recently they stopped providing vessel owner details in its documented vessels report. What gives? There’s no reason to shield this information.

Owning a vessel documented under the laws of the U.S. is as public as the purchase price of your home. And don’t get me started on Coast Guard casualty investigation reports. Nothing should take so long. It sometimes takes literally years before these reports are issued. This needs to change.

The Coast Guard does good work, okay? On the waterfront, I don’t have a problem with them, but when it comes to their back offices and the administration, I’ve had enough.

With Coast Guard marine casualty investigation reports, my sense is that the reports get composed relatively quickly and then go aground in the approval process. I wonder whether there’s an unwillingness on the part of those wearing the shoulder boards to sign the final report. Maybe whoever has to sign says to themselves, “I’ll wait. I’m only in this station for another six months, let the next person put their name on this.” That’s too bad because a statute, “Information barred in legal proceedings,” nearly insulates the Coast Guard from being dragged into a proceeding because of what’s in such an investigative report.

The statute states that “no part of a marine casualty investigation conducted under section 6301 of this title, including finds of fact, opinions, recommendations, deliberations, or conclusions shall be admissible as evidence or subject to discovery in any civil or administrative proceedings.”

Yes, the statute allows you to depose (ask questions under oath) Coast Guard personnel “on solely factual matters,” but that’s not an easy row to hoe and it’s a tough process to schedule such a question and answer session. Does the Coast Guard know about this statute? It seems that it should remove any concern about signing a casualty investigation report because the possibility of blowback is about zero.

About the author

John K. Fulweiler

John K. Fulweiler is a licensed mariner and experienced admiralty attorney. He represents individuals and companies throughout the East and Gulf Coasts and has recently taken command of his own maritime law firm. He enjoys navigating the choppy waters of the maritime law, but readily admits to missing life on the water. He can be reached at john@fulweilerlaw.com . His website is www.saltwaterlaw.com.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Steven V. Gibbons on

    The decision to no longer provide vessel owner details, I believe, is a result of privatizing documentation functions of the Coast Guard. I pine for the days of being able to deal with the dedicated public servants in the United States Coast Guard local offices rather than the private contractor-employees of the NVDC in West Virginia (that bastion of maritime commerce!). Pork Barrel Politics run amuck, if you ask me.

  2. Avatar
    patriothogwash on

    The statute states that “no part of a marine casualty investigation conducted under section 6301 of this title, including finds of fact, opinions, recommendations, deliberations, or conclusions shall be admissible as evidence or subject to discovery in any civil or administrative proceedings.” that raises concern about any given report lawyering up to cover themselves.

  3. Avatar
    Jody Coman, Marine Surveyor on

    I approve of your questions. It seems odd to me that an owners name can not be listed as public in formation on documentation certificate inquiries. It is import to many to know whom has owned this vessel and for how long. It is also very in inconvenient to wait two or three months for a renewed documentation certificate when the law requires that it be aboard at all times. I also have deep respect for all members of the U.S. Coast Guard that preform their duties at sea, on the coast and in the offices.
    However, don’t understand the reason for the above issues.

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