Coast Guard personnel throughout New England recently launched an operation to ensure that commercial tugs are following rules, regulations and licensing procedures.
The intent of the operation, dubbed Big Tow, is to identify areas of Uninspected Towing Vessel concentrations and examine the vessels to verify the operators hold a valid Coast Guard license that is appropriate for the size and route of their vessel.
"Historically, we haven't seen many inadequately licensed UTV operators in New England waters," said Lt. Scott White of the Coast Guard First District prevention department. "But this gives us the opportunity to engage with UTV operators in the area and help them comply with all safety regulations."
The operation was created in response to a collision on the Mississippi River July 23, 2008, involving a cargo vessel and a loaded oil barge that resulted in more than 282,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil spilling into the river. The investigation revealed that the helmsman of the towing vessel pushing the barge was not authorized to independently operate the tug.
During this operation, Coast Guard units throughout New England will work with industry and UTV operators to conduct licensing verifications and vessel safety spot checks, which may consist of verifying the vessels have equipment such as life jackets, life rings, and fire extinguishers on board.
The Coast Guard will seek to conduct these examinations while towing vessels are tied up pier side, or through other methods that will not impact business or the flow of commerce.
"We have leveraged our existing partnerships with the towing vessel industry in the development of our strategy for Operation Big Tow," said White. "We encourage UTV operators to be proactive and review their operations to identify any problems they may have with licensing or safety gear prior to verification by the Coast Guard."
The operation is scheduled to run through the end of January.