ICE BREAKING CAPACITY, PERSISTENT ARCTIC PRESENCE MOSTLY NOT ADDRESSED
|(Photo: USCG) THE CGC POLAR STAR|
One long time safety consideration that has long been advocated by the National Mariner's Association (NMA) is proposed in the bill, a phase in requirement that passenger vessels carry out of water survival craft in certain waters. Of course life boats have been a requirement since the TITANIC for large seagoing passenger vessels, but they are often not required for inland excursion craft and ferries and many offshore crew boats. The NMA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have advocated that all commercial vessels over 65 feet in length carry at least inflatable life rafts to assure that passengers and crew don't have to await rescue immersed in water where they are exposed to the dangers of hypothermia, scattering, and attack by marine life. Both organizations have been arguing for this since the early 1980s. We suppose this is a start but it is way too little. The bill provides for a "phase in" of the life craft so expect no immediate improvement. The bill applies only to "certain passenger vessels", so expect a lot of exceptions. The bill applies the phase in only on certain waters so expect Deep South waters to have some sort of wide spread exemption. This makes no sense to us. Its true that waters of the the U.S. Gulf Coast are warm enough throughout the late spring to early fall to make hypothermia for immersed passengers unlikely. But many excursion and ferry operations in these waters run all year. While a 60 to 52 F degree water temperature may not sound that cold, and these are not untypical mid winter water temperatures in the region, hypothermia sets in at any temperature below 70 F. So, for the safety items requested by the National Transportation Safety Board over the years, and still carried on their lists as "still awaiting action" we'll have to give this section of this year's Coast Guard appropriation act a D- and that's generous if you know how long the NTSB's list is.
The only mention of Ice Breaking in the Bill was a requirement for the Coast Guard to charge foreign flag vessels for ice breaking services. With nearly 99% of our seaborne imports arriving on foreign flag ships this idea is probably not great news for our Great Lakes and Northern Eastern ports. Look for winter cargoes to be diverted south or to ports that provide ice breaking services at port or state expense. There was no mention in the bill of a sustained Coast Guard presence in the High Arctic and no new appropriations for more ice breakers. So on the ice breaker and sustained High Arctic presence front we have to give the present bill a well earned and really solid" F". The rest of the bill addresses some long overdue needs, some possibly adequately. By holding the total budget to last years amount the Senate is basically cutting the Coast Guard budget by at least 3% via the work of inflation. For making 3% budget cut look like merely holding the line in a time of austere funding we have to give the effects of the overall budget a "D", while giving our legislators an "A" for slight of hand.
The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 as presently written provides some statutory backbone to the development of a National Maritime Strategy by requiring the Maritime Administration to create a plan that would assure the future of the U.S. merchant marine. One of the major issues driving so many maritime problems for the United States is a lack of a comprehensive national maritime policy. For providing a tentative first step forward in that direction we give this portion of the bill an "A+". The bill also provides an easing of merchant marine licensing regulations making it easier for departing and retiring Navy and Coast Guard personnel to enter the various merchant mariner trades. The bill as currently written also provides some housing and other overdue benefits to active duty Coast Guard personnel with those provisions rating an "A" grade. The bill also throws a bone to small "second tier" shipyards, a "B" effort.
In all we'd have to score the effort as a "C-" . Our biggest disappointment being the failure to address ice breaking capabilities and a persistent Coast Guard presence in the High Arctic at a moment in history when the Bear is taking action to grab the major portion of the resources of the High Arctic. Obviously since we are assigning academic letter grades to the bill this is an opinion piece To read the complete and non opinionated article click on WORKBOAT
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