Brownwater News, October 2015

Federal budget deadline moved to Dec. 11

Voting just hours before a midnight deadline on Sept. 30, the House approved a stopgap spending bill to keep the federal government open another 71 days. Republicans opposed the bill by a clear majority but Democratic support was unanimous.

The House passed the bill 277-151 after the Senate approved it 78-20 earlier in the day. The votes sent the bill to President Obama for his signature.

The legislation finances the government through Dec. 11, allowing House and Senate leaders 10 weeks to negotiate a more wide-ranging budget deal that would carry past the 2016 presidential election.

Twelve nations approve Pacific Rim trade deal

The United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations agreed Oct. 5 on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an international deal that the White House says would eliminate tariffs that are considered barriers to trade, including more than 18,000 imposed on U.S. exports.

Negotiators took nearly six years to complete the agreement, which, if ratified, is projected to impact 40 percent of the global economy. Critics expressed concern about the potential for currency manipulation and whether the deal will result in fewer U.S. jobs. Some lawmakers and 2016 presidential candidates have reserved comment until seeing the text of the agreement.

Congress is not expected to vote on the deal until early next year. Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, endorsed the agreement and said that the TPP “is good for American ports and American jobs.” Nagle added that the agreement would increase “trade and U.S. exports, and provide more jobs in our ports and throughout the nation.”

Interim Deauthorization List ready for comments

The Army Corps of Engineers has given interested parties until Jan. 4 to file comments on the Corps’ Interim Deauthorization List of water resource development projects, or separable elements of the projects. The list was published in the Federal Register on Oct. 7.

Among projects eligible for deauthorization are those that are incomplete, those that were authorized before Nov. 8, 2008, those whose construction has not been initiated, and projects that have not been funded for post-authorization study in the current fiscal year or any of the past six fiscal years.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 requires that projects on the Final Deauthorization List have, in the aggregate, an estimated federal cost to complete that is at least $18 billion.

The projects and elements on the final list will be deauthorized automatically after 180 days following the date that the assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works) submits the final list to Congress, unless Congress disapproves the list.

Towing panel weighs reduction of engine room personnel

The Coast Guard has announced that the Towing Safety Advisory Committee will meet Oct. 23 to review and discuss recommendations from its subcommittees, including one regarding the automation equipment, testing and trial periods for a potential reduction of engine room personnel on towing vessels.

The subcommittees will meet Oct. 22. The meetings will be held at the Department of Transportation’s Media Center in Washington, D.C.

For more information, contact William J. Abernathy at (202) 372-1363.

Vessel crewmembers ‘asleep at the wheel’

The Coast Guard has issued a safety alert following an increase in the number of groundings in Alaska involving uninspected commercial fishing vessels. The Coast Guard said that 16 reported groundings have occurred since July 14.

“In a number of investigations, it was learned that the captain or crewmembers on the vessel had fallen asleep at the wheel after working extensive hours over several days,” the Coast Guard said. “The safety alert (No. 8-15 “Asleep at the wheel: When fatigue catches up”) says that fatigue may have been a causal factor in many of these groundings.”

The Coast Guard said that fatigue symptoms are not limited to just a person falling asleep. “Fatigue issues are strongly related to human errors and poor performance,” the Coast Guard alert said. “Nearly all modes of transportation are impacted by fatigue and many studies have been performed about its negative short- and long-term effects.”

While modern technology may be useful, “the best defense against a fatigue-related navigation casualty is a well-rested watch stander who is later relieved by another watch stander (who) has had adequate time to sleep,” the Coast Guard said.

Drewry: Dry bulk shipping to remain in recession until 2017

The Dry Bulk Forecaster report published by Drewry of London says that the dry bulk shipping market will remain in recession until 2017 due to decreasing demand for iron ore and coal.

According to the Forecaster: “Falling demand and oversupply has severely impacted commodity values, with iron ore and coal prices in virtual free fall. The dry bulk shipping sector has been a casualty of these developments with resultant impacts on vessel earnings.

“However, there is some optimism for small vessel employment, as the onset of El Nino weather conditions will increase demand in the long-haul grain trade,” the report said. “The depressed state of the dry bulk sector has led to doubts about the future of many shipowners and their ability to withstand prevailing market conditions. Drewry believes that the future of a number of yards and owners are at risk.”

Maritime security panel seeks new members

The Coast Guard has invited interested parties to apply for membership on the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee. Completed applications should reach the Coast Guard by Oct. 30.

The Coast Guard said it would consider applications for eight positions that will become vacant Dec. 31. Successful applicants will represent interests of port authorities, facilities owners or operators, terminal owners or operators, vessel owners or operators, maritime labor organizations, the academic community, and state and local governments.

For more information, contact Ryan Owens at (202) 372-1108.

Ports request full funding of landside connections

In a separate appeal for highway funding, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) said Sept. 8 that its members will push for full funding of “critical freight mobility” provisions in the surface transportation legislation that Congress is expected to finalize this fall.

Both the Senate and House passed a short-term highway bill in July. Before leaving Washington for its August recess, the Senate also passed a $350 billion, six-year surface transportation measure (the DRIVE Act), with money only for the first three years of the legislation.

“With port activity accounting for more than a quarter of the entire U.S. economy, it’s critical that our seaports have seamless links to other segments of the nation’s freight transportation network,” said Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the AAPA. “We will deliver the urgent message to Congress that fully funded landside seaport connections are required to keep freight moving for American manufacturers, workers, farmers, consumers and communities nationwide.”

Merchant Marine personnel committee needs new members

The Coast Guard has given interested parties until Nov. 3 to submit applications for membership on the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee.

The Coast Guard will consider applications for five positions that expire or become vacant June 1. The positions are for a licensed engineering officer; a licensed deck officer with an unlimited tonnage master’s license and experience on tank vessels; a member representing the viewpoint of shipping companies; an unlicensed seaman representing the viewpoint of qualified members of the engine department; and a member who will be drawn from the general public.

For more information, contact Davis J. Breyer at (202) 372-1445.

House panel studies Great Lakes water quality, ecosystem

The House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing Sept. 30 to find out what has been done during the past decade to improve Great Lakes water quality and restore the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, chairman of the subcommittee, noted in an opening statement that the Great Lakes “constitute the largest inland water transportation system in the world, and have played an important role in the economic development of both the United States and Canada.”

To improve coordination among the numerous government agencies, communities and other parties involved in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), Gibbs said that in 2004 the president ordered the creation of the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force. The panel released an action plan in 2010 and an updated action plan in 2014.

Gibbs said the latest plan targets “the five biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem and accelerates progress toward long-term goals.” The five focus areas are toxic substances, invasive species, non-point source pollution, habitat restoration, and accountability and education.

Subsequently, Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, introduced H.R. 223 to authorize the GLRI for five years and to carry out projects and activities for Great Lakes protection and restoration. The bill also calls on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies to collaborate on the selection of the best combination of projects and activities for Great Lakes protection and restoration.

Jon W. Allan, chairman of the Great Lakes Commission, highlighted some of the progress made under the GLRI in the past five years, including the removal of contaminated sediments in the Kinnickinnic River in Wisconsin and the removal of sediments in Muskegon Lake in Michigan. As a result, Allan said, Muskegon is developing a port plan that is consistent with the restoration work.

Citing several recommendations, Allan suggested that the Great Lakes states “need and deserve better engagement from both the EPA and other federal agencies, particularly in establishing program priorities and planning projects.” 

By Professional Mariner Staff