Towing industry about to get its first look at proposed vessel inspection rules

At long last, the nation's maritime industry this summer will learn the specifics of the U.S. Coast Guard's towing vessel inspection program.

The inspection plan has reached the final step before the proposed rule is released to the public. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is studying the fiscal impact of the towing vessel inspections.

The White House budget analysts received the draft rule after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano approved the plan in late March. The budget review must be completed in 90 days, meaning the OMB should be finished with it by late June.

American Waterways Operators (AWO) expects the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to be published in the Federal Register shortly thereafter. Finally, the entire industry and public will be able to read the document and start planning for the future.

"AWO has been working through the congressionally authorized Towing Safety Advisory Committee for years to help the Coast Guard develop this historic regulation," said AWO President and Chief Executive Thomas Allegretti. "We are gratified that we are finally moving this important rulemaking process to its conclusion and will thereby enhance safety in the towing industry and on our nation's waterways."

Six weeks after the proposal is published, at least four public meetings will be scheduled to discuss concerns. Then there will be a 120-day public comment period. The final rule is expected to be implemented over a period of years.

To help the industry and examiners prepare for the day when regular safety inspections will be mandatory, the Coast Guard began offering voluntary inspections in June 2009. Those boardings, which the Coast Guard terms "industry initiated examinations," continue to be available. For information, contact the Coast Guard's Towing Vessel National Center of Expertise in Paducah, Ky., at (270) 444-7715.

By Professional Mariner Staff