Friday, May 25, 2012

Coast Guard finds alarming deficiciencies of U.S.-flag vessels

A sad refrain I hear myself and others repeating more often the past few years is "we're becoming a third world country." The latest evidence of this sad but not inevitable trend is that the U.S. Coast Guard has now placed U.S.-flagged vessels on the Coast Guard's "gray list" for increased scrutiny in port because of "an alarming trend in the number of significant deficiencies noted," according to an article in MarineLog.
In an article published on the Coast Guard's homeport website, Capt Christensen says these deficiencies mainly relate to improper manning, primary lifesaving equipment, engine room fire hazards, structural hull safety, and the inability to verify compliance with international conventions due to missing or non-endorsed documentation such as International Safety Management (ISM) certificates.

This pattern, writes Captain Christensen, is illustrative of a decline of registry performance, which has firmly landed the U.S. on the "gray list" in at least one of the regional PSC regimes since 2008. This status is indicative of an average performance over the preceding three years and signifies the necessity to implement immediate corrective action. As a result of "gray list" categorization, U.S.-flagged vessels are subject to increased PSC scrutiny and examination frequency. Compounded with the results from Coast Guard and class oversight efforts, multiple substandard conditions have been identified and attributed to habitual offenders indicative of a flawed safety management culture. 
One company had its ISM Document of Compliance revoked because of a "clearly established a pattern of habitual disregard for rules and regulations" Shades of Wall Street!

This story struck me, because back in the 1980s, I wrote a number of articles about the merchant marine and shipbuilding. South Korea in particular was being very aggressive in its support of its shipbuilding industry as an industrial policy to direct the development of their country. Which succeeded, brilliantly, no thanks to all the "free market" naysayers. Anyway, at the time, it was generally recognized that U.S.-flagged vessels were among the most ship-shape in the world. Reflagging vessels in Panama or Liberia or some other country without the means to actually regulate a maritime fleet had become a sad joke, with many foreign flagged vessels in deplorable, even dangerous, condition. Many such vessels were prohibited from entering or off-loading in U.S. ports. Now, it seems, the U.S. has caught up with the rest of the world. Onward the (in)glorious march of pecuniary culture!

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