House Urges for New Tug Rules

Thursday, September 18, 2008

When Rear Adm. James Watson IV promised Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., at a hearing Tuesday that the Coast Guard would issue proposed rules regulating tugboats in 2009, Cummings asked Watson to repeat the pledge.

The frustration with the long-delayed new rules on tugs gained new urgency this summer when an oil spill in the Mississippi River shut down shipping through . The spill has been blamed on a tugboat being operated by a company that was involved in another accident on the river 10 days earlier.

It's been four year since Congress ordered the Coast Guard to create rules requiring the regular inspection of towing vessels and setting limits on the number of hours that crew members work each day. Neither set of rules has been issued

As the Coast Guard's mission has been expanded in the age of homeland security, it appears that tugboat safety is not foremost on the agenda.

On July 23, the tugboat Mel Oliver, pushing the fuel barge DM 932, crossed in front of and collided with the 600-foot motor tanker Tintomara. Nearly 300,000 gallons of oil spilled from the barge.

It was determined that the Mel Oliver was under the control of a steersman apprentice, whose license did not authorize him to operate the vessel without the captain being in the wheelhouse. The captain was not on board at the time of the accident.

The Coast Guard held two days of hearings on the accident in in mid-August, and Watson said the hearings will resume Oct. 9 with about 30 more witnesses.

In May, the American Waterways Operators, found DRD wanting on its safety audit. At the hearing, Thomas Allegretti, president and CEO of the association, said that with Coast Guard regulations in place, that information might have been disseminated in a way, and with some consequences, that might have made a difference.  

During the hearing both Cummings and the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, Rep. Steve LaTourette of , said those responsible for the accident leading to the oil spill should face jail time.

 Source: Times Picayune

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