The U.S. Coast Guard's supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM) on "Fire Suppression Systems and Voyage Planning for Towing Vessels" appears in today's Federal Register. The SNPRM proposes the installation of fixed fire-extinguishing systems in the engine rooms of towing vessels, and it states that owners or operators, and masters, ensure that voyage planning is conducted before vessels towing barges commence on trips or voyages of at least 12 hours. Towing vessels that engage only in assistance towing, pollution response, or fleeting duties in limited geographical areas would be exempt from this proposal.
The SNPRM is the result of an incident that occurred on January 19, 1996, off the coast of Rhode Island when the tugboat Scandia, with the tank barge North Cape in tow, caught fire five miles off the coast. Unable to control the fire, crewmembers were unable to prevent the barge, which was carrying four million gallons of oil from grounding and spilling a large portion of its contents. The spill subsequently led Congress to amend the law to permit the Secretary of Transportation - "in consultation with the Towing Safety Advisory Committee
(TSAC) - to require fire-suppression and other measures on all towing vessels. The measures outlined would undoubtedly lead to a decrease in the number and severity of injuries to crews, prevent damage to vessels, structures and other property and protect the environment.