Wednesday, October 2, 2013



File:USCG Eagle.jpg
  Have you ever been in a situation like like this. You have been trying to get management to update your fire extinguishers for months and they refuse. Its' time for the annual Coast Guard inspection. One day, Joe's Cut Rate Fire Extinguisher Service comes to the dock, weighs each extinguisher and fills them with an unknown white powder and seals them with a tamper indicator, tags and dates them. You strongly suspect the white powder was selected with absolutely no knowledge of the particle size relative to the venturi fitting size of the extinguishers ( one hint was that the same power was used on all the dry chemical extinguishers regardless of make or size). What do you tell the Coast Guard Inspector? If you mention your concern do you have any protection? If you fail to mention your concern do you have any liability. Well here is the law on that:
46 U.S.C. 
United States Code, 2011 Edition
Title 46 - SHIPPING
Subtitle II - Vessels and Seamen
Part B - Inspection and Regulation of Vessels
Sec. 3315 - Disclosure of defects and protection of informants
From the U.S. Government Printing Office,

§3315. Disclosure of defects and protection of informants

(a) Each individual licensed under part E of this subtitle shall assist in the inspection or examination under this part of the vessel on which the individual is serving, and shall point out defects and imperfections known to the individual in matters subject to regulations and inspection. The individual also shall make known to officials designated to enforce this part, at the earliest opportunity, any marine casualty producing serious injury to the vessel, its equipment, or individuals on the vessel.
(b) An official may not disclose the name of an individual providing information under this section, or the source of the information, to a person except a person authorized by the Secretary. An official violating this subsection is liable to disciplinary action under applicable law.
(Pub. L. 98–89, Aug. 26, 1983, 97 Stat. 516.)
Historical and Revision Notes
Revised sectionSource section (U.S. Code)
Section 3315 requires an individual holding a license issued by the Coast Guard to assist inspection authorities and to make defects and imperfections known to those authorities. Anyone licensed also has a duty to report any marine casualty producing serious injury to the vessel, its equipment, or individuals on board the vessel. These licensed individuals who have this statutorily imposed duty to disclose are also protected by prohibiting any government official from disclosing the identity or source of the information except as authorized by the Secretary.

Here is our point. Yes if you fail to inform the inspector you may well have some liability or in some cases even criminal culpability. But you better be able to quote the law about the protection of informants to him or her because our experience is that far too few Coast Guard personnel are aware of their obligation to protect you. By all means do disclose any safety concerns you have at inspections but cite your protected status early in the conversation. You might even want to have a print out handy to give the inspector. In my career I have actually had quite a number of arguments with Coast Guard personnel who believed that they were obligated to inform owners and management of disclosures by employees. Its quite the opposite but we fear this isn't a particularly stressed concept in training boarding officers, inspectors, and investigators. 

Good Luck,


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