Operational Excellence through Leadership and Compliance

Maritime Compliance Report

Welcome. Staying in compliance takes dedication, diligence and strong leadership skills to stay on top of all the requirements which seem to keep coming at a rapid pace. With this blog I hope to provide visitors with content that will help them in their daily work of staying in compliance. I hope you find it a resource worthy of your time and I look forward to your feedback, questions, comments and concerns. Thanks for stopping by.

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Anti-Piracy Procedures and the Ship Security Plan

Recently, a group of U.S. Marines were able to board and regain control of a German-owned ship, which had been taken over by pirates off the coast of Somalia. They were able to do so without firing a single shot. According to a CNN report, a military spokesman claimed the members of the ship’s crew had locked themselves in a safe room, so the military felt it was a good time to board the ship.    

Many flag states and recognized security organizations world-wide require anti-piracy procedures to be contained in ship security plans required under the International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) code. While this recent intervention was a great success, it complicates things for those responsible for coming up with anti-piracy procedures and ensuring their implementation through drills and training.  Is this the new “best practice?”

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Regulators – Industry rejects or wannabes?

“Regulators are either industry rejects, or wannabes, neither of which makes for good regulators.” At least that is the opinion of one law professor at a recent lecture series I attended regarding the BP/ Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The comment was made during a discussion about what the responsibility and liability of federal regulators should be, such as those regulators from the agency formerly known as MMS (Mineral Management Service), who may not have performed their duties to the fullest of their abilities. I found the comment both offensive and intriguing at the same time. Offensive perhaps, because I have served as a federal marine inspector in the past; intriguing, because on some level, it rings true.

 

The implication is that a wannabe is more likely to look the other way in hopes of gaining favor with industry and ultimately securing a comfortable position. When I started out as a U.S. Coast Guard marine inspector years ago, an old-timer and co-worker told me, as I was writing a long list of deficiencies for a vessel, “You’re never going to get a job in this industry when you retire.”

 

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Brad Pitt on the Death Penalty for Oil Spillers

Years ago my psychology professor told us that in order for punishment to be effective, it must be swift, severe and consistent. The example he used was that if you want a child to stop playing with matches you should immediately hold his hand over a lit stove every time you catch him doing it. Of course, that was an extreme example used to make an important point. But based upon recently published reports, it seems that Hollywood actor Brad Pitt may be of the same mind. According to Mail Online, UK, Brad Pitt has weighed in on the Gulf oil spill controversy and said he would consider the death penalty for those to blame for the disaster which killed 11 men and spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. When asked about the people responsible for the crisis, Pitt reportedly said: “I was never for the death penalty before - I am willing to look at it again.” While Mr. Pitt’s comments may seem over the top, and based upon emotion, they raise an important point about compliance.

 

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Optimizing your Facility Security Plan (FSP)

Port security funds are supposed to be allocated to projects that will have the greatest impact. So, why would scarce taxpayer dollars be spent on fences and cameras to protect non-threatening areas such as settling ponds far away from the nearest waterway? The answer, most likely, is human error. The International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) Code requires port facilities around the globe to comply with the maritime security requirements of the Code. For U.S. port facilities, the U.S. Coast Guard regulations derived from Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 2002 provided a definition of the term “facility.” However, many years later, there are still conflicting opinions regarding what portions of a facility must be included under the maritime security regulations. The definition of a facility, beyond the description of the waterfront portion, calls for “any contiguous or adjoining property” to be included. Despite this definition, some facilities simply fenced off their docks, called that their facility, and got away with it. Other similar facilities were required to spend tens of thousands of dollars on fencing and other access control issues for their entire property.
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Is the Coast Guard “in bed” with BP?

Here in New Orleans much of the discussion on talk radio is centered on the Coast Guard’s handling of the BP/ Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Following the lackluster response to Katrina, the general public and local officials want swift and decisive action from federal responders. The problem is that the existing process set up by law makes the spiller responsible for the clean-up. The federal government requires operators to have response plans and contracts in place to clean up oil spills. The feds are responsible to make sure that the approved plans are followed. The general public and local officials have little understanding or tolerance for such processes during an emergency. In fact, some people seem to think that in a disaster all laws become suggestions commonly referred to as “red tape.”

 

If we want to improve our response in the future we must look at the factors which make government respond the way it does: laws and regulations. If an agency charged with enforcing laws and regulations steps in to intervene on response activities, they are looked at as obstructionist bureaucrats. Nothing will make federal agencies respond differently the next time by declaring them “Stuck on stupid.” Perhaps if the federal on-scene coordinator had waiver authority for all laws and regulations, and was shielded from all personal liability, the response would be smoother. Short of that, I suspect the general public will continue to be disappointed.

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Maritime Security Lesson from an Environmental Disaster

As we wait for the results of the investigation into the BP/ Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one thing appears fairly certain based upon currently published information, and that is that corners may have been cut and unnecessary risks may have been taken. This is not really surprising. We cut corners and take calculated risks every day, often with no negative consequences. Who has never exceeded the speed limit while driving? The natural reaction of politicians and bureaucrats is to make more laws and regulations to fix the problems before we know for sure what the problems are. We may find that the problem wasn’t a lack of adequate laws and regulations, but perhaps it was the lack of enforcement, oversight and compliance with the existing laws and regulations. If so, why would the level of enforcement, oversight and compliance drop to a level where an accident like this might occur? Perhaps because they had not had a major accident with similar operations in the recent past to remind them of the threat. BP was reportedly celebrating a safety milestone at the time of the disastrous blowout. If people have not experienced a major accident in quite some time, their minds allow them to believe the threat has become diminished. In actuality the threat has not diminished with the passage of time, but still corners are cut and unnecessary risks are taken, because the precautions that once seemed necessary may now seem like overkill.
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EPA Vessel General Permit (VGP) Recordkeeping

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Vessel General Permit (VGP) which went into effect in the U.S. in February of 2009. The purpose of the VGP is to regulate discharges into the water which are incidental to normal operations. In general, the VGP applies to all commercial vessels which are greater than 79 feet, U.S. or foreign flag, operating in U.S. waters. This includes otherwise unregulated deck and hopper barges as well. There hasn’t been much enforcement of the EPA VGP to date, but, according to the EPA, they are developing a Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) regarding how the USCG will enforce this on behalf of the EPA. So, you may not see any enforcement for quite a while, but when they show up they will want to see documentation going back as far as February 2009 as evidence that the VGP has been followed.
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EPA Vessel General Permit (VGP) Best Management Practices (BMPs)

The VGP identifies 28 types of incidental discharges which may occur from vessels, including: sacrificial anodes, gray water, elevator pit effluent, controllable pitch propellers hydraulic fluid, deck run-off, etc. Recognizing that totally eliminating discharges may be an unachievable goal, the EPA requires vessels to establish and follow best management practices (BMP) to minimize these discharges, such as wiping galley dishes free of oil and grease prior to placing them in the sink. The EPA has indicated during conversations that this kind of BMP may be verified by USCG or EPA inspectors who may ask an unsuspecting crewmember, “What do you do with that plate after you’re done eating?” The VGP is another form of performance-based regulation such as ISM and ISPS. The same pitfalls are associated with this VGP as are found with other performance-based programs. The key to compliance with performance-based programs is in the implementation and training. Unfortunately, implementation and training levels are usually commensurate with the level of enforcement, which can be inconsistent. Since we do not yet know how the VGP will be enforced, the VGP best management practices may run the risk of becoming another “book on the shelf.” Of course, there are requirements for record keeping and inspections which must be provided to enforcement personnel upon request in order to verify compliance.   In order to avoid that situation and the costly penalties associated with it, vessel operators should consider the following: Draft best management practices in accordance with the VGP which cover all applicable discharges. The best management practices should meet the requirements of the VGP, but be realistic and able to be implemented. Go through the VGP and produce a comprehensive system of logs and records which will cover every aspect of the VGP, including the corrective action. Don’t wait until you have something to correct to look at the requirements. Train all vessel personnel on the requirements of the VGP on a regular basis. Finally, always keep in mind the intent of the regulation, because that is how the enforcement person will approach it. For example: If your vessel discharges gray water over the side, and an inspector asks a crewmember what he does with the dishes prior to putting them in the sink; if the crewmember starts explaining about separating garbage, but fails to mention that he wipes each plate free of oil and grease, you could be subject to a violation.
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Safety Management System or a Checklist for Negligence?

The latest trend in regulatory schemes is performance based regulations. This type of regulation usually requires the regulated entity to come up with a plan or system which will meet the performance based criteria in the regulations, such as International Safety Management (ISM) and the impending towing vessel inspection regulations. Some organizations also require member companies to implement a Safety Management System (SMS), such as the American Waterways Operators (AWO) Responsible Carrier Program (RCP). Regardless of the source, not fully implementing and complying with these plans can have serious consequences in the event of an accident.
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