Coast Guard Setting Safety Rules for Towing Vessels

All inspected towing vessels would have to use a towing safety management system or be subject to an annual inspection regime. USCG asked for comments on possible hours of service and requirements for managing crew endurance.

The Coast Guard has issued a proposed rule that would require all inspected towing vessels to use a towing safety management system or be subject to an annual Coast Guard inspection regime. The agency's proposal comes seven years after it held public meetings and went to work on this issue following enactment of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2004, which added towing vessels as a class of vessels subject to safety inspections.

The proposed rule contains estimates that 5,208 vessels owned by 1,059 companies will be affected by it at an annual cost of $18.4 million, with benefits estimated at $28.5 million annually from reduced congestion and delays. It says an average of 156 accidents per year involving these vessels result in property damage above $250,000, along with 23 fatalities, 146 injuries, and 26 oil spills.

The rule does not propose hours of service for towing vessel workers, but it says the Coast Guard is considering establishing HOS standards and requirements for managing crew endurance and requests comments on this.

"Despite medical and scientific evidence ... that most people need at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep to restore their cognitive abilities necessary to maintain situational awareness, it is common for watch and rest schedules on towing vessels to fail to permit this minimum amount of uninterrupted sleep," the rule's text states. "Why have market forces not caused the towing vessel industry to adopt work schedules that permit the minimum amount of uninterrupted sleep necessary for most persons to maintain situational awareness? Would a mandate that mariners on towing vessels obtain a required number of hours of uninterrupted sleep, such as 7-8 hours, require a change in watch schedules? If so, what watch schedules would a towing vessel use?"

A towing safety management system is meant to ensure the safety of the vessel and crew, prevent human injury or loss of life, avoid environmental and property damage, and ensure continuous compliance with applicable regulations, according to the rule. It would require the owner or managing operator of a towing vessel to implement safety management practices for both shoreside management and vessel operations. The Coast Guard proposes to accept compliance with the International Safety Management Code (mandatory for vessels subject to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974, as amended) as equivalent to the TSMS requirements.

Comments (, Docket No. USCG-2006-24412) are due by Dec. 9. The rule says USCG intends to conduct public meetings about the proposal.

The Coast Guard intends to focus its initial efforts on inspecting towing vessels moving commercial barges, especially those towing oil or other dangerous and combustible cargoes, and/or providing harbor assist services to large commercial ships, because the preponderance of casualties it reviewed involved those vessels. It proposes to exempt towing vessels less than 26 feet in length, unless towing a barge carrying oil or other dangerous or combustible cargo in bulk; workboats that do not engage in commercial towing for hire but may intermittently move a piece of equipment within a work site, such as a dredging or construction site; and towing vessels performing assistance towing as currently defined in 46 CFR 10.107 from this rule and to propose regulations for them at some later time.

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