At a Think Tank session on Subchapter M at the International WorkBoat Show in November, Editor-in-Chief David Krapf interviewed Christopher Parsonage, president and executive director of the Towing Vessel Inspection Bureau, and Kevin Gilheany, owner of Maritime Compliance International.

David Krapf: Have the industry’s choices of what compliance option to use, third party organization (TPO)/Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) or Coast Guard inspections, been pretty much what was expected?

Chris Parsonage: Based on Coast Guard statistics, approximately 3,000 vessels have decided to go with the TSMS option. There are a number of other vessels that have gone with the Coast Guard option. But the companies don’t have to declare until they apply for their COIs. So, there’s a number of folks who haven’t decided if they are going Coast Guard or TSMS. Through the middle of November, there’s about 200 COIs that have been issued nationwide. The Coast Guard is very concerned because they are way behind their average of 120 a month needed to get everyone done by the phase in period. There’s a big gap. That’s a problem that people need to be aware of and they need to get on it.

Kevin Gilheany: Like Chris said, slightly over half of the vessels out there are falling under a TSMS as of early November. And one-quarter of all the towboats need to get a COI by July. But there’s a requirement that says you have to have a TSMS certificate six months in advance. So that brings us to January 20. So, if a company hasn’t signed up, and getting a TSMS certificate is involved … there’s still going to be a significant amount of boats that are going to have to go with the Coast Guard option for the first quarter of their vessels unless the Coast Guard decides to defer that requirement.

Krapf: Do you think that the thoroughness of third-party audits are more than what the industry has been used to in the past, given the recent Coast Guard guidance regarding third party oversight in the wake of the El Faro disaster?

The crowd at the well-attended Think Tank session at the WorkBoat Show asked about TSMS procedures and several other topics. WorkBoat photo

The crowd at the well-attended Think Tank session at the WorkBoat Show asked about TSMS procedures and several other topics. WorkBoat photo

Parsonage: Part of our goal as an organization is to look for consistency amongst the auditors and the audit that they perform. So, we give them a very concise process to follow. We give them the checklist they are to use, with the idea that each audit should be pretty similar and it should be pretty thorough. I don’t think there is any question that the Coast Guard is going to have significantly more oversight of the auditors. The question I have is the Coast Guard really prepared to review audits very well. The Coast Guard is used to doing inspections. They’re not used to doing audits. The Coast Guard is trying to work with the TPOs when we are out doing audits. They will tag along as an observer to see how the audit is conducted to first train their people and then provide a vehicle for monitoring how well the audits are done and how thorough they are.

Gilheany: The audit issue is huge. My company does not do any external audits for anybody, and there’s a reason for that. We strictly do internal audits. Because the regulations say that the audit should ensure that they are following their standard policies and procedures. When you are doing a TSMS and the regulation says the auditor has to go out there and sign a letter or certificate saying this company is operating in full compliance with this manual, to me that’s huge. So, we try to prepare our clients for that. The number one thing is that you need to make sure everything is in that manual. In my opinion, that should be done as a plan review. That’s how it’s done under ISM, ABS, etc., and they go through your plan and say ‘yup, it’s all in there.’ And then they stamp it and that’s done. When it comes time to get audited the auditor doesn’t go back flipping through that manual. He’s there to make sure you’re following it. So, imposing this on an auditor to go through the manual every time under a TSMS takes away from the time doing the audit.

Krapf: What are the main nonconformities that third party auditors have been finding?

Parsonage: Documentation is typically a problem. They’re doing it but they don’t have a record of it. There’s a procedure that they’ve implemented and they have modified the procedure but they haven’t updated it to reflect what they are currently doing. Also, making sure that they have the most current system on board is a challenge sometimes for some companies if they are still on a paper-based system, where they’re not looking at the current TSMS that the company thinks they have out there. You have to say what you are going to do and then you got to do it. Then document it so the auditor can look for that information. That’s what they have to see.

Krapf: Do you think that the Coast Guard’s exercising of OCMI authority in different zones is helpful, deferring enforcement for example, or does it just add a level of complication to the process?

Gilheany: No, I don’t think it’s helpful, especially the way it has gone down over the past year. An example is the flares. It said in this (Coast Guard) sector that they didn’t think you needed flares on the river and here’s why. And they gave a big list of reasons why. (But) what about a boat from that sector that goes to Baton Rouge and the Coast Guard asks where’s the flares? I don’t need them, I’m from that sector. We’ll, you’re in this sector now and you don’t have them. It’s a requirement of Subchapter M … so I can’t let you operate until you get some flares. That’s not good. Just because the Coast Guard has the authority to defer certain things maybe they should look at the impact on the industry.

Parsonage: I would say that the deferred enforcement letter has been a complete mess. Companies are going through audits, going through their survey process … their OCMI said OK we’re good with that and now it’s been revoked, without really a lot of explanation. The companies are very confused, especially the line boat companies that go through multiple sectors every day. And they have one TSMS, and I have a boat up here where’s it’s OK to not have flares, and one down here where I got to have them. It’s a mess. This inconsistency is driving people crazy. As a TPO it is driving us crazy. It was probably well intentioned to begin with, but I think how it got rolled out and how it’s been turned off is very messy.

Krapf: If an auditor asks a towboat captain to explain the company’s bridge transit procedures and he says he doesn’t know but knows where to look it up, should that answer be acceptable?

Gilheany: If he doesn’t know but as long as he knows where to look it up, I’ve never agreed with that. It’s nonsense. But people go around saying that including the Coast Guard. In order for the safety management system to be effective in reducing accidents and injuries, you have to follow the procedures.

Parsonage: Why do we want to do an audit in the first place? We are trying as an auditor to verify that the company is doing their training, that the employees knew what the program is, and that they are continually improving their performance. The object of the auditor is not to go in and say recite procedure 42.2.5 or whatever it is and try to trip the captain up. If the question was in reference to a navigation procedure that he should know, he sure better have the right answer. And he should be very familiar and very fluent. An audit should add value. It should be a report on your operations as to whether your people are really performing the way you expect them to.

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.