Change in sea-time requirement for tug mates prompts safety concerns

The timber barge Swiftsure Prince began listing after breaching its hull in the Queen Charlotte Islands. The barge was later deliberately run aground.

A proposed reduction in the sea-time requirements for becoming a mate of a towing vessel of 200 tons or more has many in the industry concerned.

The rule change is designed to provide an alternative path for licensed mariners to move into the towing industry. Right now, all mariners, even experienced ones, must complete 36 months of service on a towing vessel, which includes 12 months at an entry-level position.
“This makes it impractical for an experienced master of an inspected vessel to become master of a towing vessel,€VbCrLf wrote Eric Verdin, CEO of Delta Towing LLC of Houma, La., in the petition asking for the new rule.
The rule change would reduce the sea-time on board towing vessels to 30 days for mariners who already have 36 months of service under another license, have completed a Towing Officers’ Assessment Record and have passed the apprentice mate exam.
The comment period on the proposed rule has ended. Now the rule enters the review phase before the final rule is published. “It has to be routed through and reviewed and approved,€VbCrLf said Luke Harden, project leader in the mariner’s credential program policy division at U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington. As with any rule, the review of the comments could lead to changes in the final rule.
The proposed rule change has the support of major players in the towing industry, including the American Waterways Operators and the Offshore Marine Services Association. The proposed change would have “a material effect on the ability of the tugboat, towboat and barge industry to crew its vessels efficiently and safely at a time when the industry faces a severe shortage of vessel personnel,€VbCrLf wrote Jennifer A. Carpenter, senior vice president of the AWO, in support of the rule change. She submitted her observations to the federal Web site taking comments on the rule.
But many towing masters are concerned that 30 days is not enough time to learn what is needed to become a mate of a towing vessel. They fear that, particularly on vessels with only two licensed officers, safety could be in question if a mate with only 30 days of training is at the helm.
“The mere thought of someone with so little practical experience earning an endorsement in so short a time, and then be in charge of a loaded tow, gives me great cause to be alarmed,€VbCrLf wrote Capt. William E. Brucato, of Reinauer Transportation Co. “I defy anyone to find someone who can claim (and actually be) qualified to steer a tug or towboat after just 30 days of mostly classroom time. It does not even come close to reality.€VbCrLf
Capt. Darren S. LaPierre of Destin, Fla., noted that the change in standards impacts not only the towing of sand and gravel barges, but also barges carrying millions of gallons of hazardous cargo such as chemicals and petroleum. “This will certainly result in a decrease in marine safety and just as certainly result in an accident which, if involving a petroleum barge, could also result in an environmental disaster,€VbCrLf LaPierre wrote.
The current Coast Guard training rules were finalized just three year ago. “The idea of lowering the bar is really not acceptable,€VbCrLf said Capt. Joel Milton, a member of the Master of Towing Vessels Association, of South Beach, Oregon, which opposes the rule change. “This is a safety issue to us,€VbCrLf Milton said. “I have to work with these people. It is dangerous enough already without adding that on top of it.€VbCrLf
He is not against mariners making a lateral move into the towing industry. “I just don’t want to see them put into a situation they can’t handle, way too soon,€VbCrLf Milton said. He works towing oil barges, with crews of a captain, mate, two deck hands and an engineer. “Every person counts,€VbCrLf he said. “You can’t afford to have any one of them not be up to snuff.€VbCrLf
For Milton, the absolute minimum time on a towing vessel should be six months (a calendar year, with time off). “I’m attempting to be a little accommodating with the Coast Guard and the industry,€VbCrLf he said. But he believes that safety should not be compromised in any effort to bring more people into the towing industry.
The proposed rule change is in 46 CFR Parts 10 and 15 (USCG-2006-26202), Training and Service Requirements for Merchant Marine Officers.
To view comments, go to and enter USCG-2006-26202 in the search box.

AEP Mariner is the first of 10 long-haul boats being built for AEP River Operations. The 6,000-hp 166-foot-long boat was delivered by Quality Shipyards in April.

Log barge strikes sandbar, intentionally grounded
The 350-foot long timber barge Swiftsure Prince began listing 23° on the evening of May 5 as it was carrying logs from the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, to Prince Rupert. The barge breached its hull after apparently striking a sandbar outside of Masset, on Graham Island in the Queen Charlottes. The barge began leaking diesel fuel during the trip. Officials at the Prince Rupert Port Authority were not going to allow the barge to enter the harbor, but the Canadian Coast Guard decided that the leaking fuel was not a major issue. Because of the list, the barge was brought into Pillsbury Cove and intentionally grounded. The tugs Castle Lake, Maratan Prince and Signal VI assisted. The three tugs are owned by Rupert Coast Sort Ltd., of Prince Rupert. Crews began work May 6 cleaning up the spilled fuel. About 600 gallons of fuel was removed from the water. The barge is owned by Sea-Link Marine Services of New Westminster, British Columbia.

New AEP River Operations towboat to deliver coal
The first of 10 full-size, long-haul boats for AEP River Operations of Chesterfield, Mo., (a unit of American Electric Power) has been delivered. AEP River Operations ordered 10 new 166-foot, 6,000-hp towboats, which are being built at Quality Shipyards LLC in Houma, La. The first vessel, AEP Mariner, was delivered in April.
The new towboat will be transporting coal on the Ohio River, between Pittsburgh and Cairo, Illinois, according to Mark Carr, spokesman for the company. AEP River Operations is owned by AEP of Columbus, Ohio, and the new vessel will be serving several power plants on the Ohio River, Carr said.
The focus of the new towboat is crew comfort. “The critical thing we’re working on is quality of life, and crew endurance issues,€VbCrLf Carr said. Several aspects of the design, including sound baffling and light controls in crew quarters “promote a healthy work environment for the crew.€VbCrLf All exposed walls in the living quarters, pilothouse, galley and messroom have six inches of insulation, to reduce noise. The towboat has acoustic insulation on the inside walls of the generator room, according to the specification document. All staterooms are wired for satellite television and computer accessibility.
The towboat is powered by two 3,000-hp General Motors EMD 12-710 turbo-charged marine-diesel engines, driving two propellers through Lufkin hydraulic reverse reduction gears with Centa couplings. The winches are Patterson model 65-7.5-150, powered by 7.5-hp electric motors with a line pull rating of 10,000 pounds and a maximum pull of 30,000 pounds. The winches’ maximum line speed is 35 feet per second.

Gordon M. Stevens, a 124-foot, 3,000-hp towboat built by the Orange Shipbuilding Co., will be operated by the Corps of Engineers at the Olmsted Lock and Dam on the Ohio River.

Wrong time for lockage fee proposal
Officials from the Waterways Council said this is the wrong time for a proposal from the White House to replace fuel taxes with lockage fees to pay for the upkeep and improvement of the inland waterways system, given the current economic difficulties.

“Doubling the amount of revenues extracted from the inland waterway industry, as the Administration proposes, will drive commerce off the waterways and onto congested and capacity-constrained highways and railroads, exactly the opposite of what enlightened national transportation policy should seek to accomplish,€VbCrLf said Stephen Little, president and CEO of Crounse Corporation of Paducah, Ky., at an April 30 hearing held by the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Currently, the barge and towing industry contributes $90 million, through fuel taxes, to a fund that pays for upkeep. The fiscal 2009 budget projects that industry would contribute about $190 million.
Starting Oct. 1, the proposal would create a two-tiered system of fees paid by towboat operators on loaded and empty barges. For locks with a main chamber at least 600 feet, the lockage fee would be $50 per barge and increase $10 per barge annually for the next three years. For locks less than 600 feet, the per-barge fee would be 60 percent of fee paid at larger locks. Starting Jan. 1, 2013, the fee could automatically increase or decrease annually by $10 per barge for large locks and $6 per barge for smaller locks, based on the balance in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.
Based on conversations with those in congress, the proposal does not seem likely to pass this year, according to Dan Mecklenborg, senior vice president and chief legal officer of Ingram Barge Co. of Nashville, Tenn. “The reception that we have received has been nearly unanimous in agreeing that this is a misguided proposal,€VbCrLf he said.
Towboat for Olmsted lock project christened
The main towboat to be used at the Olmsted Lock and Dam Project was christened on May 23 in Paducah, Ky. The 124-foot long, 3,000-hp Gordon M. Stevens was built in 2007 by Orange Shipbuilding Company of Orange, Texas. “It will be used in the placement of various pieces of equipment into the water,€VbCrLf said Ron Elliot, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District.
Gordon M. Stevens is the fourth vessel built for the corps with the same hull and house layout, according to Elliot. The first was Evanick, used in the Pittsburgh District; then Kenneth Eddy, in the Huntington District; and General Warren, used in the St. Paul District.
The towboat is powered by two 1,500-hp Caterpillar 3512B marine engines, driving two 80-inch diameter Kalenberg propellers housed in Kort nozzles manufactured by Rice. There are four Patterson 60-ton single-drum electric winches. The vessel is named after Gordon M. Stevens, who served in the corps for 40 years, finishing his career as chief of the construction division.
The Olmsted project is located downstream of Locks and Dam 53 on the Illinois/Kentucky border. The 12-year old, $1.5 billion project has missed its completion date by six years.
Foss sells tugs, barges
Foss Maritime Company of Seattle announced in April that it has agreed to sell two tugs and 20 barges now operating on the Columbia Snake River system to Tidewater Barge Lines of Vancouver, Wash. Foss will maintain is Portland-based division and will no longer provide river barging of grain, wood products and containers. Tidewater provides barging and terminal services from Port Lewiston, Idaho, to Astoria, Ore.
Palmer to retire from Waterways Council
The search for a successor to R. Barry Palmer, president of Waterways Council Inc., began in April. Palmer announced that he would retire at the end of 2008.
In June 2003, Palmer helped create the Waterways Council, the national organization that advocates for a properly funded and well-maintained system of inland waterways and ports. The council grew out of Waterways Work!, a campaign to modernize waterways infrastructure, and the Association for the Development of Inland Navigation in America’s Ohio Valley.
Palmer was president of the Ohio valley organization for 22 years before helping start the Waterways Council.
“It is nearly impossible to envision Waterways Council without Barry Palmer as its leader,€VbCrLf said Dan Mecklenborg, chairman of the council. “Barry has been the face, as well as the heart and soul, of inland navigation advocacy for more than 25 years.€VbCrLf

Mecklenborg said Palmer’s accomplishments include the spending down of the surplus of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, which authorized modernizing the system on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

By Professional Mariner Staff