Subchapter M Phase-in Period Draws to a Close
The U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday marked the end of the four-year Subchapter M certificate of inspection (COI) phase-in period for U.S.-registered towing vessels.
Subchapter M, the United States regulatory code dealing with towing vessels and requirements for towing vessel safety, has officially been in place since July 2016, when the U.S. Coast Guard finalized the long-awaited Sub M rulemaking. The first COIs were issued in 2018, and all of the more than 5,000 U.S. domestic towing vessels must have valid COIs on board by July 19, 2022 in order to operate commercially.
"This is a historic occasion for both the commercial towing industry and the Coast Guard as we have been working toward this moment since the 2004 Authorization Act which added towing vessels as an inspected class, said Rear Adm. W. R. Arguin, U.S. Coast Guard, Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy.
"Today marks the conclusion of almost two decades of work with our industry partners. It is also the first time the Coast Guard successfully implemented a dual inspection subchapter, which includes a new comprehensive safety management system for both company and vessel compliance," Arguin said.
Operators can choose one of two routes to Subchapter M compliance, either through U.S. Coast Guard inspection, or through a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) option, which uses USCG-approved, third-party organizations to perform compliance verification.
"These past four years have been challenging with devastating hurricanes, a global pandemic and ever increasing pressure on our marine transportation system, but jointly with a goal to have a systemic approach for managing safety risks in operations, we have met these obstacles and persevered," Arguin said
The milestone has been welcomed by industry groups such as American Waterways Operators, whose president and CEO, Jennifer Carpenter, said, "July 19 is a historic day for transportation safety in the largest segment of America's domestic maritime industry. Our arrival at today's certification milestone has been driven by our industry's deep commitment to elevating safety as we transport our nation's vital cargo as a critical part of the American supply chain. We commend the men and women of the tugboat, towboat and barge industry and the U.S. Coast Guard for the bold vision and hard work that have made this achievement possible. Maritime commerce is vital to America's economy, security, environment, and quality of life, and we are proud of our industry's role in keeping our nation moving safely."
Key members of Congress and Executive Branch maritime leaders also commented on the significance of this safety milestone.
Rear Adm. Ann Phillips, USN (Ret.), Administrator, U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), said "After almost two decades of diligent collaboration, I want to congratulate the Coast Guard, AWO, and all those involved in making the towing vessel inspection regulations a reality. The regulations will improve safety for U.S. mariners while helping ensure the sustainable and efficient operation of the tugboats, towing vessels, and barges essential to commerce on our nation's waterways."
Jennifer Homendy, Chair, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said, "Today is a great day for marine safety, thanks to our partners at the U.S. Coast Guard, American Waterways Operators, and the industry at large — all of whom worked for years to set minimum safety standards for towing vessels. The NTSB has long advocated for SMS in all modes of transportation because it's one of the most important steps you can take to save lives. That is why we strongly encourage all operators to implement a Towing Safety Management System, even if they choose the USCG inspection option."
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, said, "Ensuring the safety and efficiency of all vessels is an important responsibility for the marine industry. Subchapter M keeps our environment, waterways, vessels, and mariners safe. I appreciate the U.S. Coast Guard for their work to certify and inspect hundreds of vessels, and I commend the American Waterways Operators for their efforts to help this critical industry navigate this transition smoothly."
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), said, "Without the men and women who operate towing vessels, our Nation's waterways, and much of our economy, would come to the standstill. Congratulations to the tugboat, towboat and barge industry for hitting this safety milestone. By prioritizing safety on the job, you'll be able to keep moving our Nation forward for decades to come."
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Ranking Member, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, said, "I want to congratulate the U.S. tug and barge industry on the long, hard work they put in to become a fleet fully inspected by the Coast Guard. Congress, with the support of the American Waterways Operators, directed the Coast Guard to undertake an inspection program in 2004. Although it took the Coast Guard a number of years to write the program's regulations, they became final in 2018, and the phased-in implementation is now complete. Compliance has had its costs, and operating changes have been necessary to meet the requirements of the new Certificates of Inspection. The industry should be proud of having undertaken these efforts to ensure an even safer and more efficient tug and barge fleet, and I look forward to more cargo moving on U.S. waterways in coming years."
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, said, "With water transportation systems being a crucial component of our nation's infrastructure network, ensuring the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry is up to date and in compliance with safety regulations is important to keeping those systems online. This year, the entire industry exceeded that by completing all inspections and certifications on time. The industry has committed to creating and maintaining a strong partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard so that the waterways we use to keep our economy open for business are safe. I want to congratulate the entire tugboat, towboat, and barge industry for achieving this certification milestone, and for doing their part to keep our economy and national supply chain running."
Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), said, "Marine transportation is a vital part our nation's economy, security, and supply chain. The tugboat, towboat, and barge industry has a strong record of prioritizing safety while performing this important work, and the Certificate of Inspection requirement will be key to taking the safety of maritime commerce to the next level. I commend the industry and the Coast Guard for working together to establish this needed requirement."
Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), said, "Our nation's economy and security is in many ways built on maritime transportation, and the tugboat, towboat and barge industry has always been strongly committed to putting safety first while serving as a critical link in the American supply chain. This Certificate of Inspection requirement will mean safer waterways as the nation conducts its maritime commerce, and I congratulate the industry and the Coast Guard on this important achievement."