Coast Guard Finally Sets Oil Vessels' Firefighting Response Times

Eleven years after rulemaking efforts began to ensure that ships carrying group I-IV petroleum oils are adequately equipped to handle salvage and marine firefighting as required by their mandatory vessel response plans, the U.S. Coast Guard has published a final rule that clarifies the planholders' responsibilities and required response times. Since early 1993, the required capabilities of 33 CFR 155 have been in place, but the Coast Guard until now suspended the requirement that these resources be capable of being deployed to the port nearest the area in which the vessel operates within 24 hours of notification by the planholder of an oil spill.

The Coast Guard did not develop specific requirements until now because it considered salvage and marine firefighting response resource needs to be unique for every ship, and it wanted planholders to identify whatever contractor resources they would need. "The Coast Guard expected that the significant benefits of a quick and effective salvage and marine firefighting response would be sufficient incentive for industry to develop salvage and marine firefighting capabilities, similar to the development of oil spill removal organizations that was seen in the early 1990s," the rule explains, but "[e]arly in 1997, it became apparent that the expected salvage and marine firefighting capability development was not occurring. There was disagreement among planholders, salvage and marine firefighting contractors, maritime associations, public agencies, and other stakeholders as to what constituted adequate salvage and marine firefighting resources. There was also concern over whether these resources could be deployed to the port nearest the vessel's operating area within 24 hours, even though the maritime industry had several years to develop these resources. Thus, this salvage and marine firefighting rulemaking was initiated."

The rule will take effect Jan. 30, 2009, except for the amendment to Sec. 155.1050, which is effective February 12, 2009. It incorporates by reference five NFPA documents, including NFPA Standard 1005, Standard for Professional Qualifications for Marine Fire Fighting for Land-Based Fire Fighters.

The rule revises the section on required pre-incident information and arrangements for the salvage and marine firefighting resource providers listed in response plans (Sec. 155.4035) by adding text that says if the planholder's vessel pre-fire plan meets international standards, a copy of the plan must be given to the resource provider. And the section on ensuring salvage and marine firefighters are adequate (Sec. 155.4050) includes "in arduous sea states and conditions" to ensure all expected weather conditions are addressed when selecting a resource provider for contract, adding paragraph (b)(14) on worker health and safety, and adding paragraph (b)(15) regarding a resource provider having familiarity with the marine firefighting and salvage operations contained in the local Area Contingency Plans for each area for which it is contracted. A drills and exercises section (Sec. 155.4052) was added to highlight that salvage and marine firefighting components are part of the existing exercise requirements for these vessels.

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