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Maritime Compliance Report

Welcome. Staying in compliance takes dedication, diligence and strong leadership skills to stay on top of all the requirements which seem to keep coming at a rapid pace. With this blog I hope to provide visitors with content that will help them in their daily work of staying in compliance. I hope you find it a resource worthy of your time and I look forward to your feedback, questions, comments and concerns. Thanks for stopping by. To avoid missing critical updates, don’t forget to sign up for email alerts by using the Subscribe to blog link above.

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Six months and counting… Perhaps this deadline for the Subchapter M Final Rule will be the final one. It certainly feels that way. Folks in the know seem to be more confident than ever before. I’m also starting to see the media buzz, and our company has received requests for assistance from five new towboat companies just in the past month. So, what should towboat companies be doing now to prepare? The first thing towboat companies should do is decide on their compliance option.

As proposed, 46 CFR 136.130 outlines that towing vessel companies have two options for obtaining a Certificate of Inspection (COI) for a vessel. The first option is inspection of the vessel by the Coast Guard. This is a traditional Coast Guard inspection of the vessel, not an audit. A health and safety plan will be required and there are significant record requirements contained in Subchapter M, but those items fall far short of a safety management system. Under the proposed Subchapter M, a safety management system is not required for towing vessels. In fact, under the U.S. flag, safety management systems are not required for any class of vessel other than a deep draft ship on an international voyage.

The second compliance option is to comply with the requirements of a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) and to use approved third parties. Making this choice will be the single biggest decision for any towing vessel company, because the demands placed upon the company by voluntarily choosing to use a TSMS as a compliance option to obtain a vessel’s COI will be much greater.

It makes no difference if a towing company is already operating under a safety management system. They may still choose to go with the Coast Guard option to get its COI, because, as proposed, safety management is not required by regulation for towing vessels. The proposed regulation requires vessel operators to fill out an application for inspection for each vessel, and each application will require the operator to check the compliance option for each vessel. Therefore, an operator may choose the TSMS option for some vessels and the Coast Guard option for others.

There are lots of opinions being expressed about this. Some sound like sales pitches disguised as sound advice. But even though our company develops TSMSs as a major part of our business, if I owned a towboat, I would check the Coast Guard compliance option. I would not bet my COI that the captain and crew are going to convince the auditor that the vessel is in compliance with proposed 46 CFR 140.205(b). That federal regulations states: “towing vessels with a TSMS must be operated in accordance with the TSMS applicable to the vessel.” For example, the auditor finds a four-inch thick TSMS on board and asks the captain if he has read it yet. The captain responds that he has skimmed through it, which means no. Some auditors might not care. But who wants to bet that you won’t get the auditor who says: How can I certify, under penalty of 18 USC 1001 (making false statements), that the vessel is being operated in accordance with the TSMS, if the captain admits he hasn’t even read it yet?

Choose wisely.
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Towboat captains take pride in their craft: driving boats. That’s what they enjoy, and that’s what they signed up for. They are respected for their ability to handle boats, and are paid well for their experience. So why then do we put a big fat telephone book of a safety management system (SMS) on the boat and expect the captains to actually follow the procedures in that the telephone book?

The truth is, a safety management system for towing vessels does not have to be large and cumbersome, especially for small and mid-size companies. The format of having purpose, scope, definitions, and responsibility preceding every procedure may not be the best approach. If you are running a shipping company with 80 vessels across the globe, and offices on four continents, maybe that is the way to go. But for small and mid-sized towing companies, for the most part, these items can be addressed up front, significantly reducing the size and complexity for the end user.

Years ago we came up with an SMS format intended to maximize the possibility that crews might actually use it. We removed all the extra verbiage, “bulletized” as many procedures as possible, and made it all 14 point font. We have applied this method successfully with all the different SMSs in our industry today, including helping a client get to TMSA stage 1.

With recent changes to industry SMS requirements I have heard from clients who think that these changes, including TMSA standards, will require them to revert to telephone book format. This could not be farther from the truth. The quality of an SMS is not measured by how many words it contains. An SMS which covers all requirements, and can actually be read and understood by crews is what each company should strive for.

A few years ago we developed an International Safety Management (ISM) SMS for a client. We kept to our streamlined format and included all standard industry policies and procedures, and it was still only 125 pages. Did the seasoned classification society surveyor say it wasn’t comprehensive enough? On the contrary, he said it could be reduced further. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking more is better to impress an auditor, or the Coast Guard. Streamline, and make sure your crews are actually following the written procedures. Now, that’s impressive.
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A common cause of engine room fires is fuel spraying onto a hot surface, such as a turbo charger. This can happen when fuel line connections become loose, or chafe through. Many inspected vessels are required to have shields installed on fuel line connections to mitigate this threat. Flexible fuel lines should be inspected regularly for chafing, and should be replaced if they show signs of wear.

Companies operating with a safety management system should conduct a risk assessment to determine which high threat scenarios require mitigation. The threat of a spraying fuel fire is a high threat for all vessels. Therefore, mitigation strategies should be included in the safety management system. There should be a procedure to regularly inspect fuel lines, and a job aid, in the form of an inspection checklist, can be used to ensure no items are missed. Crewmembers must be trained on how, and why, to inspect fuel lines. If a crewmember is just handed a checklist that says “fuel lines,” they may just check it off thinking, “Yep, we have fuel lines.” That sounds like a joke, but it has happened more than once.

As more technology makes its way into the industry, companies may look for inspection checklists to be done on a computer. However, careful consideration should be given to this practice. The point of a job aid is to use it while conducting the job, to make sure nothing is overlooked, not to check boxes before, or after, the fact on a computer screen.

During a recent survey a vessel’s flexible fuel lines were inspected by a surveyor, and one was found to be chafed almost all the way through. The vessel was dangerously close to experiencing a spraying fuel fire. The real shame was, there were stacks of completed daily checklists on board with “fuel lines” checked off.
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Under the first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Vessel General Permit (VGP), an annual report was only required to report non-compliance. Under the current 2013 VGP, an annual report is required to be submitted for all vessels covered by the permit, which includes all commercial vessels 79 feet and greater, operating in U.S. waters, including the three mile territorial sea. The first annual report, which will cover calendar year 2014, is due on February 28, 2015. The annual report is included as Appendix H to the 2013 VGP and is three pages long. You can read it over to get an idea of the type of information you will have to submit, but the actual completion and submission of the annual report must be done online.

If you go to the EPA VGP Monitoring and Reporting page, it will refer you to the “eNOI” System page to complete the annual report. The Vessel eNOI page will lead you into the eNOI System. However, you may want to scroll down that page first and see the links for the Annual Report Webinar to prepare yourself. When you click on the eNOI page it will tell you, you must first register with the Central Data Exchange (CDX), if you haven’t done so already. If you are already overwhelmed, just wait until you start filling in the report. This is a complicated, time consuming process. Congratulations to those who have already completed it. To the rest of you, a friendly reminder, you only have three weeks left.
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There is an important webinar today on submitting annual reports for the 2013 EPA VGP. Submitting the report will be required next month for all owner/operators of vessels that are covered under the 2013 VGP. Follow this link to register:https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/100000000065725817
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The sVGP is once again on the back burner. The moratorium on vessels less than 79 feet has been extended. According to Sen Vitter’s officer, a compromise was reached while working on a larger bill regarding vessel discharge requirements. The language was inserted into the Howard Coble Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 (S.2444), which extends the expiration date of the moratorium for vessels less than 79 feet from December 18, 2014 to December 18, 2017. That bill was signed into law by the President on December 18. Under the moratorium, NPDES permits are not required for discharges incidental to the normal operation of commercial fishing vessels and other non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet, except for ballast water. I have verified this with the folks at EPA Headquarters and they have asked that I spread the word. Merry Christmas.
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Don’t miss the panel discussion: Subchapter M - Top 10 Things You Need to Know. The panel will take place on Wednesday December 3, from 4:00pm until 5:00pm. Also, please visit our booth:

Booth 3561

Come by, say hello, and ask for the special gift. We look forward to seeing you.

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There is currently a moratorium against permitting incidental discharges on vessels less than 79 feet. Translation – the current vessel general permit does not apply to vessels less than 79 feet. However, the current moratorium expires on December 18, 2014. According to the website govtrack.us, on November 19, 2014, Sen Marco Rubio introduced a bill to extend the moratorium, Public Law 110-299. The website gives the bill only a 7% chance of being enacted.

If the moratorium is not extended, on December 19, 2014 the Small Vessel General Permit (sVGP) will go into effect. Non-recreational vessels less than 79 feet will have to comply with the provisions of the sVGP beginning on that date. Here are some of the highlights. Vessel owner/operators will have to: read the permit, sign and carry a copy of the Permit Authorization and Record of Inspection (PARI) form on each vessel, comply with the best management practices for specific discharges, conduct inspections of certain items “frequently, daily, or quarterly,” as required by the permit. They will have to keep track of all instances of non-compliance and submit them in a noncompliance report to the EPA each year prior to February 28. All this, of course, under the penalty of severe fines and/or imprisonment. All sVGP records must be kept for three years. The Coast Guard is charged with evaluating VGP compliance during vessel inspections. With Subchapter M’s expected Final Rule date set for March of 2015, prudent vessel operators will recognize the potential threat and ensure full compliance beginning on December 19, 2014.

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Don’t let your guard down. I have noticed many in the towboat industry are suffering from Subchapter M fatigue. Understandably, many are sick of the constant hype and have become desensitized at best, and disgusted at worst, at the mention of Subchapter M. I have deliberately backed off from bring it up myself, but the truth is the industry should not totally let their guard down either. According to the regulatory agenda, as of this writing, the expected publish date for the Subchapter M Final Rule is still March 2015. In anticipation of the possibility that Subchapter M will become final in 2015, don’t miss out on this important presentation: Subchapter M - Top 10 Things You Need to Know. You can attend this presentation that I will be giving at the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle on November 19; or the panel discussion at the International Workboat Show in New Orleans on December 3. If you haven’t had a chance to go through the Proposed Rule yet, this is your chance to get the highlights. If you’ve been well versed and are suffering from Subchapter M fatigue, this is your chance to get back in tune, just in case.

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Don't miss out on this important workshop.

TSMS Workshop

Some seats are still available. Register today.

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For those of you travelling from out of town for the TSMS Workshop who want to stay at Hilton, now is the time to book a room. The Hilton is only holding the block of rooms until this Friday. Please forward this information to anyone you think would benefit from it. See you on August 8th.

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The update to the DHS regulatory agenda now shows the expected publish date of the Final Rule for Subchapter M, towing vessel inspection regulations, to be March of 2015. While some find the moving goal post frustrating, it also buys time for preparation.

Anyone who may be impacted by this regulation should take the time to read over the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). Some things to consider are: what equipment and other changes may be required for each company vessel based on the 17 "sub-applicabilities;" and, is it best for the company to choose the Coast Guard compliance option or the third party TSMS option.

Towing vessel captains should not be forgotten when considering this important compliance option. It might be interesting if companies asked a sampling of captains how they feel about passing an audit where the auditor is required by regulation to determine, by gathering objective evidence, if the company has, "effectively implemented its TSMS throughout all levels of the organization, including onboard its vessels." Even if the answer is a resounding, "bring it on!" on board implementation of all company policies and procedures would be a good topic to focus on over the next six months.
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The Final Rule for Subchapter M, the Coast Guard regulations to make towing vessels Coast Guard inspected, is scheduled to be published in September. If you are in the towing industry, you will have to make a decision under this new regulation’s compliance options: whether to use the traditional Coast Guard inspection process, or to use third party auditors and surveyors under a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS). To assist you in making this decision we have created a TSMS workshop to be held in New Orleans on August 8. This workshop is essential for those who want to make an educated decision on what is best for their company going forward. Please visit our Public Seminars page and follow the instructions to register for this important event. Thank you.

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At a recent conference some interesting information was passed regarding Subchapter M. The Coast Guard has posted on the regulatory agenda, a date of September 2014 for the release of the Final Rule for Subchapter M - Towing Vessel Inspection Regulations.

 

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The purpose of writing down the best procedure for a particular operation in a safety management system is to standardize operations in order to minimize human error. Safety management systems (SMS) vary greatly regarding their content, even within the same industry. That’s because it’s up to the company using it, or developing it, to determine which operations should be included. Some regulatory requirements, or industry programs, dictate what topics require policies and procedures, but most provide general headings. For example, the International Safety Management (ISM) Code provides a general outline such as Section 7 – Shipboard Operations. The company is expected to fill in the blanks.

 

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