As the July 20, 2018 Subchapter M compliance deadline approaches, the towing vessel industry continues to work with the Coast Guard  to identify equipment deficiencies on existing vessels and communicate progress toward their correction.

Stakeholders understand that many vessels will not achieve full compliance at the July implementation date.

So the Coast Guard has permitted operators that have employed a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) and are working with an approved Third-Party Organization (TPO) to defer certain equipment requirements that do not pose a significant threat to the safety of people, property and the environment. CG-CVC Policy Letter 17-10 provides detailed guidance on how these deficient items must be addressed.

This accommodation is afforded to TSMS inspection option operators because TPOs provide guidance and oversight to these operators with safety management systems, focusing on risk assessment and continual improvement.

While not required, it is highly advisable for vessel operators and TPOs to discuss deferment items and rectification timelines with their local Coast Guard Officer in Charge, Marine Inspection (OCMI). The OCMI has final authority in all inspection matters and reserves the right to reject the deferment of any item as necessary.

The Coast Guard has released the new CG-835V form that will be used to document deficiencies on towing vessels going forward. Included on this form are “Self-Reported” and “Work List Item” check boxes to be selected for self-identified deficient requirement items that are being addressed as soon as practicable on TSMS inspection option vessels.

The significance of these check boxes is that a deficiency entered as “Self-Reported” and/or a “Work List Item” will be entered into the Coast Guard’s Marine Information for Safety and Law Enforcement (MISLE) system for tracking purposes but will not be visible to the public in the Port State Information Exchange (PSIX).

It is important that operators using the TSMS inspection option address non-conforming items with their TPO as soon as possible to develop a deferment plan. All deficiencies are not created equal:, lifesaving and fire protection requirements are considered paramount, and in most cases cannot be deferred.

For towing vessel operators and TPOs, transparency is the best policy when dealing with the flag state. This is being reinforced by the current policy to support uninterrupted commerce, while minimizing risk of marine casualty.

The Coast Guard’s 8th and 9th districts published notices this year detailing how inspectors may handle the enforcement of specific equipment requirements, and should be referenced for vessels operating in those areas. Requirements may differ between OCMIs, so it is important for vessel operators and TPOs to have a clear understanding of what will be expected at the local level.

Nobody knows the towing vessel business better than the operators themselves, so the continued dialogue between industry and regulatory parties will prove vitally important up to the implementation deadline and beyond.

A collection of stories from guest authors.