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Coast Guard issues clarification to marine casualty reporting rules

Nov 30, 2015 02:51 PM

The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a document that provides new guidance for reporting casualties. 

The Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) released July 21 attempts to clarify reporting requirements for operators, particularly regarding less-severe incidents about which there was uncertainty of what was necessary, according to Coast Guard Cmdr. Randy Waddington. It tries to ensure officials interpret the standards consistently across local Coast Guard sectors. 

The document establishes a mechanism for operators and Coast Guard investigators to discuss a casualty before determining whether a Form CG-2692 filing is required.

“The basis for the guidance is to assist in clarifying what the Coast Guard regulations mean,” Waddington said in a phone interview. 

“Everyone understands the big ones,” he added, referring to procedures following major casualties. “It’s the ones with less consequence, but that are still required to be reported, that needed clarification.” 

Industry representatives say the changes don’t go far enough. 

“It is helpful in clarifying the regulations for what is reportable and what isn’t, but there are definitely more systematic changes we would like to see,” said Caitlyn Stewart, senior manager for regulatory affairs for American Waterways Operators (AWO). She said AWO is pushing for regulatory changes that go beyond the clarifications found in the NVIC.

The Coast Guard’s casualty reporting standards have been around for more than 30 years. Prompt reporting lets the Coast Guard conduct effective investigations, determine contributing factors and respond to mariners who need assistance, the agency said. 

Historically, however, there has been confusion about some casualties that fall within the “gray area.” These are incidents not as clearly spelled out in the regulatory requirements or not obviously of a serious-enough nature to warrant a report. This uncertainty is shared among operators and Coast Guard investigators, who interpret standards differently across regions. 

The NVIC aims to eliminate some of the uncertainty, particularly around the submission of formal casualty reports. For instance, it makes clear that Form CG-2692 will only be requested if the reported occurrence “is determined by a qualified IO to be a reportable marine casualty.”

It “strongly encourages” operators and industry parties to contact the nearest Coast Guard Officer in Charge of Marine Investigations after a possible casualty to determine the appropriate response. 

Among other changes, the NVIC clarified requirements for “bump and go” and “intended grounding or striking incidents.” It makes clear the rules for loss of propulsion, primary steering, or any associated component or control system casualties. The document clarifies reporting requirements for a crew injury and considers “rail jumping” — that of a passenger deliberately jumping overboard — as a reportable marine casualty.

“The hope is that the guidance would provide at least a baseline for which local industry and the Coast Guard can have a discussion about the incident and determine whether or not it is reportable,” Waddington said. 

Dave Patterson, president of the Passenger Vessel Association, said operators have been waiting for this kind of clarification for several years. Until now, he said, operators were living within a “confused reporting environment.”

“Coast Guard officials have unreasonably stopped operators from sailing because of conflicting interpretation of the requirements and second-guessing seasoned mariners’ professional decisions,” said Patterson, general manager and director of operations of Fire Island Ferries. 

“For example, in some extreme cases vessels have been held up by the Coast Guard awaiting resolution for a minor issue such as a leaking gasket or tripped circuit breaker,” he continued. 

The PVA argued for reporting changes not covered by the NVIC, including raising the $25,000 ceiling for reportable damage, noting that the figure has not been adjusted for inflation for decades. The organization said other passages remain confusing.

Despite “mixed feelings,” the organization described the Coast Guard NVIC as a good-faith effort.

“This guidance will be tested by real-world events,” Patterson said.

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