BrownWater News August 2011

Coast Guard initiates long-awaited inspection program for towing vessels

Seven years after winning congressional authority to proceed with an inspection program for towing vessels, the U.S. Coast Guard took its first formal steps with the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would give towboat operators two options — either adopt an audited towing safety management system (TSMS) or stand for annual Coast Guard inspections of their boats.

The proposed rules, published Aug. 11 on 75 pages of the Federal Register, also include procedures for obtaining certificates of inspection issued by the Coast Guard, and for Coast Guard oversight of any audit and survey processes involving third-party organizations.

The safety management system, which was recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board, would describe procedures for ensuring how vessels and employees would comply with all applicable requirements prescribed in the proposed rulemaking. Management would tailor its safety management system to take into consideration its size, organization structure and vessel types and services. TSMS compliance would be verified through audits and surveys conducted by third-party organizations approved by the Coast Guard and would be documented by the issuance of a TSMS certificate.

As proposed in the rulemaking, owners and managing operators who select the TSMS option would have two years to create their TSMS, have a third party approve it, and have a third party issue their TSMS certificate. They would have four years after receiving the certificate to bring all vessels under their ownership or management into the TSMS and obtain certificates of inspection.

The proposed rule would, among other things, exempt from coverage vessels less than 26 feet, unless moving a barge carrying dangerous or hazardous materials; vessels used for assistance towing; work boats operating exclusively within a work site; seagoing towing vessels over 300 grt subject to inspection; and vessels already under inspection requirements. The proposed rule also would preempt OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) jurisdiction over the safety and health of seamen on towing vessels, and defer consideration of required user fees for inspection until closer to publication of the final rule.

The Coast Guard said that while it was not making a specific proposal at this time, it's seeking information and public comment on potential requirements for hours of service or crew endurance management for mariners aboard towing vessels. The Coast Guard said it would later request public comment if it wants to implement such requirements.

Addressing the proposed rulemaking, Thomas Allegretti, president and CEO of the American Waterways Operators, said that member companies of AWO “have a well-deserved reputation as safety leaders and have spent years working to effect this change in order to raise the bar of safety for the entire industry. AWO looks forward to working with the Cost Guard to perfect and successfully implement this new safety program."

The Coast Guard prepared the proposal in cooperation with the Towing Vessel Safety Advisory Committee and pursuant to the authority granted by the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2004. Comments are due Dec. 9, either online or at the Docket Management Facility (M-30), Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C. 20590-0001.

The Coast Guard plans to hold four public meetings at dates and locations still to be finalized. The meetings are tentatively scheduled to take place in Hampton Roads, Va., Oct. 18; St. Louis and Seattle in mid-November and in New Orleans on Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, Jennifer A. Carpenter, AWO's senior vice president for national advocacy, said the AWO planned to brief members on the content of the NPRM at the AWO Pacific Region meeting in Seattle Aug. 17-18 and the Midwest/Ohio Valley Region meeting in Pittsburgh Aug. 24-25.

In addition, Carpenter said, conference call briefings open to all AWO members will be held at 2 p.m., Eastern Time, Aug. 22 and Aug. 26. The call-in number is 866-502-8312 and the pass code is 103867. Members planning to participate should send their name, company, e-mail address and date of the conference call to Katelin Walker at by Aug. 19.

For more information, contact Michael Harmon at (202) 372-1427.


House approves Corps’ FY 2012 spending bill

The House voted 219-196 last month in favor of a $30.6 billion energy and water spending bill that includes $4.8 billion for the civil works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The fiscal year 2012 spending bill, H.R. 2354, provides the Corps with $1.6 billion for construction in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, including a $50 million rescission from unobligated balances from prior-year appropriations. 

The bill provides money for Olmsted Lock and Dam on the lower Ohio River; Emsworth Locks and Dam on the upper Ohio River; Lock and Dams 2, 3 and 4 on the Monongahela River; and Lock 27 on the Upper Mississippi River.

A further breakdown of the Corps' funds for FY 2012 includes $2.36 billion for operations and maintenance, $210 million for the Mississippi River and tributaries program, $196 million for the Corps' regulatory program, and $104 million for investigations.

Among other things, the bill also prohibits use of any additional Inland Waterways Trust Fund money until Congress enacts a long-term mechanism to increase revenue sufficient to meet the required cost-sharing provisions; prohibits the use of funds to develop or submit a proposal to expand the authorized uses of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund; prohibits the use of funds for the Missouri River Authorized Purposes Study and reduces expenses by $6.3 million for dredging of the Lower Mississippi River.


House limits authority over dredge, fill permits

The House has passed and sent to the Senate a bill that places limits on the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to veto dredge and fill permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. The bill (H.R. 2018) also gives states more flexibility to administer permitting programs.

Furthermore, the bill restricts EPA's ability to veto a Corps 404 permitting decision unless the state concurs with the veto, and allows a state to assume and administer only parts of the 404 permit program. Under current law, states are required to assume the entire program or none of it.


New postage stamps honor U.S. merchant marine

The U.S. Postal Service has issued a quartet of stamps honoring the U.S. merchant marine. The 44-cent Freedom stamps feature a clipper ship, an auxiliary steamship, a Liberty ship and a containership.

The stamps were introduced July 28 in a dedication ceremony at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. The school, one of seven maritime academies in the United States, graduates deck and engine officers serving on cargo ships.


Toohey succeeds Martin as president, CEO of WCI

Directors of the Waterways Council Inc. (WCI) elected Mike Toohey Aug. 2 as the organization's new president and chief executive officer.

Toohey, whose most recent position has been consultant with the Livingston Group's Transportation, Shipbuilding, Shipping and Ports practice area, assumed his new duties at WCI Aug. 14.

The selection of Toohey to succeed Cornel J. Martin as WCI president and CEO was announced July 21.


USCG seeks to reduce Great Lakes pilotage service rates

The U.S. Coast Guard has proposed adjustments intended to reduce Great Lakes pilotage service rates that were amended last February.

The Coast Guard said the proposed adjustments, which would establish new base rates, will be made in accordance with a required full ratemaking procedure.

The adjustments would result in an average decrease of about 4 percent from the rates established last February, the Coast Guard said. The decrease from the current rate ranges between 9.09 percent in Area 2 and 1.74 percent in Area 1. The two areas include all U.S. waters on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. Area 1 is one of three designated as waters in which pilots must at all times be fully engaged in the navigation of vessels in their charge. Area 2 is one of four in open bodies of water that must only have a pilot "on board and available" to direct navigation.

The rate adjustment rulemaking affects vessels engaged in foreign trade on the U.S. waters of the Great Lakes.

By Professional Mariner Staff