The Offshore Marine Service Association
(OMSA) applauds Congress for its passage of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006 (HR 889), which contains a number of key provisions designed to help the offshore maritime sector address licensing concerns and potential threats to the Jones Act, the series of laws that require vessels that operate between ports in the United States be owned, built and operated by Americans. The final conference report on the bill was passed by the House of Representatives on June 27 and by the Senate on June 28.
The bill contains a provision that would allow the Coast Guard to extend mariner licenses that are set to expire. The extension can last until April of 2007, although it will be up to the Coast Guard to determine how long each extension will last. Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Coast Guard’s Regional Examination Center in New Orleans and, since then, mariners have faced extreme delays in the processing of license and documentation applications. In the cases of mariners who were up for license renewals, these delays have, at times, meant that their licenses expired before their paperwork was processed, making it impossible to begin work.
On the Jones Act front, Congress passed two provisions that help protect U.S.-flag vessels, especially those working in support of the offshore oil and gas industry. In the first provision, Congress granted the Coast Guard authority to require information and documents from foreign mortgage-holders to ensure that foreign companies do not control U.S.-flag vessels protected by the Jones Act. In addition, Congress included one provision disallowing foreign flag vessels to move anchors, set mooring lines or deliver supplies to mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs) operating in U.S. waters. Through a long-standing loophole in the Jones Act, foreign vessels were able to do jobs involving MODUs in U.S. waters. Specifically, if a MODU was not actively engaged in drilling, it could use foreign vessels to set anchors and mooring systems and even carry supplies back and forth from U.S. ports. Congress recognized that this created a grey area that allowed foreign vessels to expand their work in U.S. waters. The Coast Guard Bill
provision makes clear that vessel work that could only be done by Jones Act vessels in the past is still only open to Jones Act vessels under this law.