AWO: Reality TV show fails to reflect towing industry's safety culture

The following is a press release issued by American Waterways Operators:

(ARLINGTON, Va.) — The reality TV series that is currently airing on the History Channel, Great
Lake Warriors, portrays companies involved in vessel operations on the nation’s Great Lakes,
focusing on the oftentimes challenging and harsh weather conditions during the winter months.

It is important to emphasize that Great Lake Warriors is a reality TV show, and the primary goal
of reality TV is to provide sensational content. As such, it is difficult to ascertain whether
certain situations on the show were taken out of context or edited in a way to make them more
dramatic. What is clearly lost in efforts to make more dramatic television, however, is the far
less sensational, day-to-day vessel operation responsible for moving cargo throughout the
waterway transportation system and the foundational culture of safety under which this country’s
towboat, tugboat, and barge industry operates.

There is no doubt that marine navigation is inherently dangerous. Because of this, most tugboat
and towboat operators take extreme precautions and follow strict safety guidelines outlined by
government and industry to better protect vessel crews, cargo, and equipment, as well as the
general public and the waters they navigate. The nation’s 5,000 towing vessels and 27,000
barges comprise the largest segment of the U.S.-flag domestic fleet. Each year, the barge and
towing industry safely and efficiently moves more than 800 million tons of cargo critical to the
U.S. economy, including coal, grain, petroleum products, chemicals, steel, aggregates and
containers. Tugboats also provide key services including ship docking, tanker escort, and
bunkering in our nation’s ports and harbors, assisting ship owners and contributing to the vital
import and export of goods and cargo. The domestic fleet accomplishes all of this while also
being the most fuel-efficient component of the nation’s transportation system.

The hallmark of this industry, though, is its commitment to safety. In 1994, the American
Waterways Operators (AWO) became the first transportation trade association to adopt a code of
safe practices and environmental stewardship for its member companies. Today, compliance
with the Responsible Carrier Program (RCP) is a condition of AWO membership, and members
undergo independent third-party audits every three years to demonstrate continued compliance.
The RCP complements and builds upon existing government regulations, requiring safety
standards that exceed those required by federal law or regulation. The program has been
extensively cited by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation as critical to
preserving vessel and environmental safety and AWO is committed to ensuring the integrity of
this vital program.

Government must also play a role in vessel safety oversight. Since 2003, AWO has worked with
both Congress and the Coast Guard to develop legislation that was signed into law, as well as
forthcoming regulations which will ensure that the Coast Guard inspects all towing vessels
currently in operation and that all towing vessels will have a Coast Guard accepted Safety
Management System in place. These proactive steps undertaken with the strong support of
industry will help further ensure the safety of the nation’s domestic water transportation fleet.
To facilitate Coast Guard oversight while the inspection regulations are finalized, the Coast
Guard and industry also have been working together on the Towing Vessel Bridging Program, an
effort to ensure that both the Coast Guard and the industry are informed and prepared to meet the
new inspection requirements. Through this process, which began in 2009, Coast Guard
examiners have been boarding towing vessels to ensure their compliance with existing
regulations. To date, nearly 5,000 industry-initiated exams have been conducted, and this
process will continue until final regulations are in place.

Further, AWO maintains two committees comprised of member company safety professionals
that meet regularly throughout the year to review the latest safety practices and anticipate how to
proactively address any potential safety concerns. The ability to share information and
collaboratively discuss challenges helps members of the industry learn from each other and
further reinforces the commitment to safety under which AWO members operate.

All of this stands in stark contrast to the operations depicted on Great Lake Warriors. The dayto-
day operations of the nation’s towboat, tugboat, and barge industry non-dramatically facilitate
the movement of items we rely on – our food, our fuel, and many other vital products. The
industry also provides thousands of jobs that support families from coast to coast and throughout
the nation’s heartland. While it may not always make for exciting, dramatic TV, the industry is
firmly committed to its role in supporting our national economy and enhancing our quality of
life, all while operating safely and efficiently, and in cooperation with the government officials
that oversee our industry. It isn’t glamorous, but it is necessary, and the hard work of the
nation’s mariners and their foundational commitment to safety will continue to truly reflect our
industry’s operations.

By Professional Mariner Staff