Towing Vessel Inspection Proposal Advances

Wednesday, May 19, 2004
A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on April 30 that encompasses the policy provisions of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 legislative package, including a proposal that would establish a new inspection program for the towing industry. The bill, entitled the Maritime Transportation Amendments of 2004 (H.R. 4251), was quickly slated for action. On May 6, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), convened a hearing on the authorization measure. During his opening remarks, Chairman LoBiondo stated, “Since the establishment of the Coast Guard, one of the Service’s primary duties has been to promote and protect the safety of life and property at sea. H.R. 4251 includes a number of provisions that will enhance the Coast Guard’s ability to ensure marine safety.”

RADM John E. Crowley, Judge Advocate General, United States Coast Guard, testified at the hearing. “While new authorities to help the Coast Guard carry out our expanded homeland security are critical, we believe that no less critical are enhanced authorities in the Coast Guard’s traditional mission areas. One such vital and ongoing mission area is maritime safety. To enhance maritime safety the Administration’s bill includes a proposal to allow the Secretary to implement mandatory inspection requirements and a safety management system for towing vessels to reduce casualties,” he said.

“This section would enhance maritime safety in two significant ways. First, it would reduce casualties due to structural, equipment, and maintenance failures by making towing vessels subject to Coast Guard inspection. Second, it would reduce casualties caused by human error and other human factors by allowing the Secretary to establish an appropriate safety management system for towing vessels,” RADM Crowley continued. Before concluding, RADM Crowley remarked, “It is also worth noting that the American Waterways Operators, a group representing a large portion of the towing vessel industry, has expressed to the Coast Guard its support for this proposal.” AWO reaffirmed its support for the towing vessel inspection proposal in a statement submitted to the Subcommittee for inclusion in the hearing record.

The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reported H.R. 4251 on May 12 without change to the inspection proposal. The vote was important because the House and Senate will soon go to conference on another bill -- the Coast Guard Authorization Act for FY 2004 (H.R. 2443). The House passed the FY 2004 measure last November. The Senate followed suit on March 30 of this year, but not before adding FY 2005 authorization language to the legislation. In doing so, the Senate made certain that FY 2005 authorization would fall within the scope of the conference. The bills later approved by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including H.R. 4251 and H.R. 3879 (the one-page, $8 billion FY 2005 Coast Guard authorization measure reported on April 21), will form the basis for the House position in conference.

Conferees are expected to negotiate a conference report that will encompass authorization for Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005. The conferees include: Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Ted Stevens (R-AK), Trent Lott (R-MS), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Ernest Hollings (D-SC), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), John Breaux (D-LA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) from the Commerce Committee; Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Jim Jeffords (I-VT) from the Environment and Public Works Committee; Reps. Don Young (R-AK), Howard Coble (R-NC), Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), Rob Simmons (RCT), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Jim Oberstar (D-MN), Bob Filner (D-CA), Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Nick Lampson (D-TX) from the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; and, Reps. Chris Cox (R-CA) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) from the Select Committee on Homeland Security. (Source: AWO Letter, Volume 61, No. 10 • May 14, 2004)

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