A look ahead to 2016 by the U.S. Coast Guard’s Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy

Vessel DocumentationDocumentation News & Updates

Recently, Rear Adm. Paul Thomas was asked to provide his ’2016 look ahead’ for Marine News Magazine. Thomas’ piece was published in the February 2016 edition. You can view the article as it appears in the magazine. It is also provided here, for your reading pleasure…

Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, assistant commandant for prevention policy

Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, assistant commandant for prevention policy

Every January provides a fresh opportunity to reflect on the previous year’s successes and look toward the year ahead. In 2016, I look forward to addressing the primary challenges that I see facing our nation’s maritime industry, which are: the growing demands on the marine transportation system, the need to reduce shipping’s environmental footprint, and the ever-increasing complexity of systems and technology.

Through consultation with my senior staff, federal advisory committee members and industry associations, it has become clear that these enduring challenges will continue to affect all segments of the maritime industry for years to come. Based on these challenges, the following provides an overview of the priorities my staff and I have outlined for 2016:

Environmental Regulation and Compliance

For decades to come, reducing the environmental footprint of the Marine Transportation System, or MTS, will remain the focus of domestic and international regulators, non-governmental organizations, and maritime industry stakeholders. The Coast Guard is involved in setting and consistently enforcing existing standards to remove the economic incentive of non-compliance. It is vital for us to ensure a level playing field that facilitates the achievement of national environmental goals. In 2016, you can expect the Coast Guard to remain focused on MARPOL Annex Ienforcement, as we have for the past decade and more. We will export our training for Annex I enforcement to several nations looking to strengthen enforcement of this international pollution prevention standard. We will continue to refine our enforcement procedures for MARPOL Annex VI as well, including the introduction of fuel oil sampling protocols for assessing the integrity of Bunker Delivery Notes, and compliance guidance for vessels employing exhaust gas scrubbers as the means of meeting the Annex VI sulphur-emission standards. Ballast water treatment systems will also continue to be an area of focus. This year we expect a number of manufacturers to submit data to support U.S. Type Approval. We will continue to work with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to refine the G8 Type Approval Guidelines so most alternate management systems can achieve U.S. Type approval. Lastly, we expect to refine our policy on compliance procedures for the ballast water management system regulations.

Energy Production and Transportation

Despite the downturn in the price of crude oil, maritime production and transportation of energy will remain a focal point for the Coast Guard. We recognize the crude oil price cycle will reverse and are taking action to ensure we meet future demands. This includes refining the way we work with third parties who conduct inspections on behalf of the Coast Guard, modernizing Coast Guard human capital management processes in terms of recruitment, retention, training and assignment of marine inspectors, and investing in enterprise systems that support our marine safety mission. At the same time, we will address the regulations governing offshore energy exploration and production so we remain current with the technologies and marine practices. In 2016, you can expect continued tight strategic and tactical coordination with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement on regulations and field operations on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). We will continue work on regulations that require Safety Management Systems (SMS), for vessels working on the OCS in a manner that compliments, but does not conflict with or duplicate, existing international and BSEE’s Safety and Environmental Management System requirements. Our 2015 inspection and casualty data confirms the need for development, deployment and oversight of SMS as a means of managing ever-increasing complexity in this high-risk industry segment.

Cyber Risk Management

2015 was a banner year in terms of raising awareness of the operational risks associated with cyber systems in the MTS and building momentum toward deploying effective cyber risk management regimes and tools. The U.S. Congress held its first-ever hearing on cyber risk in our ports. The International Association of Classification Societies has made cyber risk management a cornerstone of their agenda, the international shipping industry has published guidelines for cyber safety and security, and the IMO has the topic on the agenda for both the Facilitation and Maritime Safety Committees. This was not the case just one year ago. This year we may see enactment of H.R. 3878 (‘‘Strengthening Cyber security Information Sharing and Coordination in Our Ports Act of 2015’’), which would require significant action to reduce cyber risks in our ports. Regardless of the outcome, the Coast Guard will be focused on providing policy, training, tools, and regimes to reduce cyber risk in the MTS. You should expect to see guidance on simplified voluntary reporting of cyber incidents in the MTS, common cyber vulnerability assessment tools and addressing cyber risk through the requirements of the Maritime Transportation Security Act. Coast Guard Captains of the Ports have all received training on cyber risk management and will continue their engagement with Area Maritime Security Committees and facility plan holders to ensure we adequately manage this operational risk.

Waterway of the Future

Another area of focus will be improving mariner situational awareness and access to, as well as transparency of, information across the MTS. You can expect to see increased deployment of electronic and virtual Aids to Navigation, or ATON, to complement existing physical aids. You should also expect to see a prototyping of waterways designed to test 21st century physical ATON, increased services from our Navigation Center that make it easier to find the information most relevant to your specific operation, policy clarification regarding the use of electronic charts and carriage of paper charts for non-SOLAS vessels, and refinements to our vessel traffic systems. These initiatives are vital to improving port and waterway safety and efficiency that will allow us to increase capacity of the MTS and meet the needs of our nation. We need, and look forward to, input from all stakeholders on our ‘Waterway of the Future’ initiative.

Sub Chapter M

Towing Vessel Regulations remain a focal point and continue to receive significant attention from the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security. We will continue to work the policy, process and training required to ensure a smooth roll out and transition of the towing fleet to inspected status, even while the rule undergoes review and final approval in advance of public release. In 2016, you can expect Coast Guard staffs at Headquarters, Districts, Sectors, and the Center of Expertise to increase industry outreach regarding the implementation of Sub Chapter M. This work will include extensive input and coordination with appropriate federal advisory committees and industry organizations. We are excited to work toward achieving a joint goal that will ensure our towing vessel fleet remains the safest in the world.

The Tragic Sinking of the EL FARO

Next month, the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board will hold public hearings regarding the ongoing investigations into the loss of EL FARO and her crew. Those hearings will help determine the future path and timeline of the Coast Guard investigation. At this point, we expect that the Report of Investigation will be complete in late summer with the Commandant’s Final Action Memo to follow. Although it is too early to speculate on the findings or required actions, this incident, to include the hearings and reports, should remind us all of the complexity of ships and shipping, and the vital role we each play in ensuring a safe, secure and environmentally sustainable MTS.

I strongly encourage your participation in the regulatory process – there are so many ways for you to do so! For example, you could consider joining a professional association, provide comments to rule-making dockets, attend public hearings, or follow and comment on Maritime Commons, which is our newly established blog for maritime industry. I look forward to hearing from you. I am confident that with your help, we will see great progress in 2016!

Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, the Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy, develops and maintains policy, standards and program alignment for waterways management, navigation safety, boating, commercial vessels, ports and facilities, merchant mariner credentialing, vessel documentation, marine casualty investigation, inspection and port state control activities.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.