After a 10-year grind, Subchapter M could actually hit the finish line this summer. The Coast Guard’s 46 CFR Subchapter M establishes an inspection regime for towing vessels, widely known in the past as uninspected vessels. The Department of Homeland Security signed off on arguably the most important legislation in the history of the barge industry and sent the legislative package to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the final stage of the process before it is published in the Federal Register. The American Waterways Operators, the national trade association for the tug, towboat and barge industry, said the final stage in the administration review process typically takes about 90 days. This means the rule could be published in the Federal Register by the end of June.
“This has been a long time coming. It’s a very safe bet the final rule will be published sometime in June,” Jennifer Carpenter, AWO’s executive vice president and COO, said during a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “The silver lining is that the industry has had a lot of time to get ready for this. We’ll have to see but I’m expecting that the industry has put this time to good use.”
In a statement released by AWO on Wednesday, Thomas A. Allegretti, the organization’s president and CEO said, “For over a decade, AWO has strongly supported the Coast Guard as it has worked to develop a towing vessel inspection regime. We are very pleased that the end of the road to Subchapter M is in sight now that the rule is under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget. The rule will raise safety standards throughout the tugboat, towboat and barge industry, incorporating and building on the safeguards that quality companies have already put in place and ensuring that all towing vessels achieve a minimum threshold of safety that is necessary to protect lives, the environment and property. We urge OMB to review the rule expeditiously.”
Now companies have to be ready to handle the changes — and the costs — that Subchapter M will bring. The rule was first required in the 2004 Maritime Transportation Safety Act. It covers about 6,000 towing vessels. Compliance will cost operators an estimated $14 million to $18 million annually, industry wide, over a 10-year phase-in period. Twenty-five percent of a fleet must obtain a certificate of inspection each year.
“There’s a lot of very bad information about Subchapter M on the streets — a lot of misunderstanding and myths,” Ian McVicker, towing vessel coordinator at ABS Group, Paducah, Ky., said during a presentation at the International WorkBoat Show in New Orleans in December. “So we must focus on education.”
There are three main parts to compliance — vessel standards, drydock exams, and a third-party safety management system, McVicker said. “All of those parts must be met by compliance.”
He also said one of the most important things that companies can do in advance of the final rule is to study the proposal and prepare all components of their business to be in compliance. It’s unlikely that the final rule will differ much from the proposed rule, McVicker said.
In addition, he suggested talking to a company’s partners, asking shipbuilders, for example, if they are prepared for the rule and the work that will relate to it, and make sure that the timeline for compliance is understood. There will be a two-year implementation period after the final rule is published, after that, there will be a compliance phase-in period.
“The best thing that companies can do is educate themselves about the rule, or have someone go through it with them. They could also meet with the Coast Guard Towing Center of Expertise,” McVicker said.