Operation Big Tow – Great Lakes

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Ninth Coast Guard District will commence Operation Big Tow within the Great Lakes area of responsibility to ensure commercial tugs are compliant with rules, regulations and licensing procedures.
The Coast Guard is conducting Operation Big Tow as a continuous safety message to the maritime industry community. The intent of this operation is strictly a marine safety focused operation being conducted to ensure that individuals operating Uninspected Towing Vessel (UTVs) are properly licensed.

A Marine Safety Alert message was released in September 2008 by the Assistant Commandant for Marine Safety, Security and Stewardship in Washington, D.C. in response to a recent collision between a cargo vessel and a loaded oil barge in the Mississippi River. The collision resulted in more than 282,000 gallons of #6 fuel oil spilling into the river. The Maritime Safety Alert was released strongly reminding the towing industry of its responsibility to properly man their vessels with adequate numbers of qualified and licensed crewmembers. The preliminary investigation into that collision incident revealed that the crewmember operating the vessel at the time of the casualty was not authorized to independently operate the tug.

The Coast Guard will primarily be checking licenses to ensure vessel operators are properly licensed for their respective vessel's size, type, and route. The Coast Guard will look for opportunities to work with industry and UTV operators to conduct boardings and examinations at locks and dams, while vessels are tied up pier side or through other methods that facilitate the flow of commerce while allowing the Coast Guard to check licenses and conduct safety checks. All of our personnel have been ordered to conduct their operations with the utmost level of professionalism and respect.

The Coast Guard is committed to improving towing vessel safety throughout the entire maritime transportation system.  Our proactive communications efforts are designed to increase awareness of the Coast Guard's regulatory authorities and to encourage owners and operators of UTVs to self-correct any issues with license compliance and safety issues.


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