Brownwater News, May 2020

WCI encouraged by vote on cost-sharing adjustments

Action on changing the way costs are divvied up for navigation construction and major rehab projects on the country’s inland waterways system is moving in the right direction, according to the Waterways Council Inc. 

WCI, which advocates for a modern and well-maintained national system of ports and inland waterways, is encouraged by a unanimous May 6 vote of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee in favor of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (known more commonly as the biennial Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA).

Currently, capital construction project costs are shared equally by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) and the federal government. The Senate EPW Committee acted to adjust that cost-sharing arrangement so that the IWTF would bear 35 percent of costs, with the 65 percent balance paid for by general revenues.

Ideally, that split would be 75 percent general revenues, with the trust fund responsible for a quarter of the costs, said Deb Calhoun, interim president and CEO of WCI, noting that there is a precedent for a 75/25 cost-share change made in WRDA 2016 for the deep-draft navigation sector. 

“The Senate EPW’s passage of WRDA that includes the cost-share adjustment is welcome, as this provision will help to more efficiently advance priority project construction and major rehabilitation on the inland waterways system,” Calhoun said. “We look forward to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s bill and then, ultimately, we remain hopeful for final passage of WRDA this year.”

The House is expected to address the bill in June or July.

SOCP releases crew-change protocols

Protocols for resuming much-needed vessel crew changes have been established for the U.S. maritime industry by the Ship Operations Cooperative Program (SOCP) Safety & Health Working Group.

A moratorium on commercial vessel crew relief has kept COVID-19 infections to a minimum, but that’s obviously not a sustainable solution, said Capt. Cole Cosgrove, chairman of the SOCP group.

“This is a work in progress,” Cosgrove said in early May, noting that an improved process is being developed so that protocols can change promptly “as experience and feedback from crews are collected.”

Ensuring the uninterrupted flow of commerce on the U.S. Marine Transportation System (MTS) during this ongoing national emergency is critical to both national security and economic vitality, he said.

Click here to download the initial protocol guidance.

AAPA outlines pandemic impacts to port cargoes

Containerized cargo is down 20 to 25 percent, and movements of bulk cargo like agricultural products, energy commodities and chemicals have declined 15 to 25 percent from the same time periods in 2019, the American Association of Port Authorities reported April 30.

These are among the findings of COVID-19 impacts on ports from the AAPA, which represents more than 130 public port authorities in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America.

Major tourism ports have been especially hard hit, including one Gulf Coast port that said it already has lost 20 percent of its annual revenue in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

See the full list of impacts here.

PVA offers reopening guidelines

The Passenger Vessel Association (PVA), which represents U.S.-flagged passenger vessels of all types, has released guidelines to help members take steps needed to assure travelers that they’ll be safe and protected when on board the group’s vessels.

The detailed document notes that while most of the nation’s 6,300 domestic passenger vessels have been idled by COVID-19, ferries across the country continue to provide service, including getting healthcare and other essential workers to their jobs.

As restrictions are eased and domestic passenger vessels are allowed to operate again, “the health and safety of the vessel’s passengers and crew must remain at the forefront of company operations,” reads the document, which was developed by the PVA Safety and Security Committee in adherence with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

The PVA recommends that companies establish and implement policies and procedures that monitor employee health (including informing a supervisor if they develop a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, or develop other signs of sickness); reinforce healthy hygiene practices, including specific hand-washing specifications; establish specific rules for social distancing and for use of personal protective equipment (PPE); and ensure vessels and facilities are appropriately cleaned and disinfected.

Read all of the guidelines here.

Coast Guard: Beware of illegal vessels on Upper Mississippi

To protect the safety of passengers, the Coast Guard wants people to avoid water taxis, excursion vessels, transportation services reserved via online apps, and other vessels that are operating illegally.

“Safety is our primary concern,” said Lt. James Long, chief of emergency management and force readiness at Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River, where there have been ongoing reports of illegal operations. “Passengers that ride any charter service are cautioned to be on the lookout for unlawful practices. … Passengers could face unnecessary danger on a vessel that has not been inspected by the Coast Guard or is operated by someone without a Coast Guard-issued credential.”

The Coast Guard continues to address potential illegal chartering operations to bring them into compliance with federal rules and regulations. Charter services that are found to be operating illegally are subject to civil or criminal penalties.

Suspected violations can be reported to Sector Upper Mississippi River’s 24-hour Command Center at (314) 269-2332.

By Professional Mariner Staff