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AWO Testifies Before NTSB On Navigational Safety

At a hearing before the National T r a n s p o r t a t i o n Safety Board (NTSB) related to the Amtrak derailment that occurred in September 1993 in Mobile, Ala., the American Waterways Operators (AWO) offered nine recommendations for improving safety on the inland waterways. Thomas A. Allegretti, AWO senior vice president, operations, represented AWO before the NTSB. Mr. Allegretti was joined at the hearing by AWO members Jack Binion, vice president of vessel operations, Hollywood Marine, Inc.; and Robert Gardner, vice president and general manager of ContiCarriers & Terminals. AWO underscored the NTSB's critical role in calling the hearings, to "develop safety recommendations which are rooted in thorough investigation and solidly substantiated by fact." AWO's testimony focused on inland towing operations, inland towboat operator qualifications and licensing, navigation equipment and safety on the inland waterways, and the nature and frequency of towing vessel collisions with bridges, which have received considerable attention since the Amtrak accident.

During the hearing before the NTSB, AWO conducted an extensive examination ofU.S.Coast Guard (USCG) data on bridge collisions and found that over the 12-year period of1980-1991, barges and towing vessels were involved in some 772 collisions with 292 bridges, or 1.6 percent of the approximately 18,000 bridges which span the nation's inland waterways.

Giving the complexity of the issues surrounding the Amtrak derailment, AWO emphasized there is no easy or quick solution which will eliminate the potential for marine accidents. However, the Association recommends t h a t the following be considered as steps which may lead to improved safety on the waterways: • In the licensing process, consider including a requirement that an operator's proficiency be checked by a qualified person within the company. USCG requirements for licensing navigators on all U.S.-flag vessels do not currently include a d e m o n s t r a t i o n or test of an applicant's navigational proficiency. • Consider including an attestation of proficiency in the license renewal process to ensure that a vessel operator maintains his/her navigational and boat handling skills.

• Standardize entry-level training through voluntary guidelines being developed by the Towing Safety Advisory Committee (TSAC).

• Require the use of fendering systems, radar reflectors, range lights, buoys and approaching guidewalls to alert commercial navigators of approaching bridges.

• Tailor required on-board navigation equipment to the geographic area in which a vessel will operate to ensure that requirements are based on the contribution they make to safety.

• Require a searchlight, whistle light and general alarm on towing vessels, already widely used by the inland towing industry.

• Standardize the initial notification procedures for reporting marine casualties.

• If Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) systems are found to be a useful tool in improving navigational safety, make vessel participation mandatory and include real-time monitoring capabilities. Set the system up in such a way that communication requirements do not distract vessel operators from their other vessel handling duties.

The NTSB hearing is AWO's second appearance related to marine safety in the wake of the tragic Amtrak accident. AWO testified before the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Navigation in October in Washington, D.C., and t h e r e a f t e r announced its overwhelming support of the Towing Vessel Navigational Safety Act ol 1993 (H.R. 3282), which would require t h a t towing vessels carry navigational charts and publications and that vessel personnel responsible for their use be proficient with navigational safety equipment (see Maritime Reporter & Engineering News November 1993, pg. 48).




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