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. To avoid missing critical updates, don’t forget to sign up by clicking the white envelope in the blue toolbar below.

Subchapter M Think Tank

 I really liked the Think Tank format at the Workboat Show this year. We had a great discussion about Third Party Option vs. Coast Guard option, Coast Guard OCMI authority to defer enforcement, the level of intensity of audits under Subchapter M, and much more.

Please let us know if any company you know of needs help getting into compliance, regardless of the chosen compliance option. We are not a TPO. We work on behalf of the client alone, not the government.
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Coast Guard Inspector: This is exactly what we need.

I have been advocating the Coast Guard option for Subchapter M since the NPRM was published. I've been telling our clients, and anyone else who will listen, all a tow boat company has to do is: 1. Get the vessel in compliance. (Paying for a regulatory compliance survey is a worthwhile investment.) 2. Have a system to manage your compliance including the TVR records. 3. Get a health and safety plan. 4. Get the required Subchapter M training. 

Okay, enough preaching. Let me tell you a success story of a client who listened...

One client of ours got their boat up to Subchapter M as well as they could. A local Coast Guard marine inspector came a couple of times and pointed out a few things they needed to take care of. This client contacted us because they were concerned about all the record keeping. We provided them with our comprehensive TVR/Compliance Management System which includes the Health and Safety Plan. Then we went to their offices and provided all the required training in one day.

The next morning the Coast Guard marine inspector (Chief Warrant Officer) came back to their boat. According to the client he was very impressed with our TVR/Compliance Management System. The inspector said, "This is exactly what we need."

If they had been ready to demonstrate drills, the inspector said he could have given them their COI that day. But the company wants to practice the "Guantanamo Bay" style drill procedures we provided them before they take that final step.

This, my friends, is the optimal level of compliance.

If you are still not prepared, or have any questions, or would like to discuss getting your vessel surveyed for Subchapter M compliance, or would like to know more about the TVR/Compliance Management System, please don't hesitate to give us a call. 

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Critical Decisions - Subchapter M

Critical Decisions – Subchapter M

U.S. towing vessel operators, large and small, are faced with critical decisions:

Should they go with the Coast Guard option, or Third Party TSMS option?

If they go with the Third Party TSMS option, which Third Party Organization should they choose?

If they go with the Third Party TSMS option, what should they use for a TSMS?

How will they ensure compliance with log and record requirements, regardless of the option chosen?

Some companies have made their decisions and are confident moving forward. Others have made their decisions, but may be having doubts. Still others have no idea. There is no shortage of sales pitches, each one with a different spin, interpretation, or promise. This barrage of conflicting agendas, does little to help companies make the best decision for their compliance.

Maritime Compliance International is dedicated to helping companies make these critical decisions. We have the tools and solutions to help companies achieve the optimum level of compliance, and have a thirteen year track record of ensuring success for our clients. We are not a Subchapter M Third Party Organization, acting as an agent of the government.

I will be speaking on all these issues at the International Workboat Show next week. But even if you can't make the conference session, come by and see us next week, booth:


Have all your questions answered, take a look at our products and solutions, and get your free gift while they last. We look forward to seeing you. 
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Marine News Magazine

Please take a look at my article in this month's edition of Marine News Magazine. (The article begins on page 20 of the magazine, page 22 of the electronic format.)  It's important information about surveying your vessel for Subchapter M compliance.

There are only 14 months left to get ready. If you need assitance with Regualtory Compliance Surveys, Towing Vessel Record/ Compliance Management Systems, Towing Safety Management Systems, or our Subchapter M Self-Study Course, please don't hesitate to contact us. 

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Congratulations to E.N. Bisso & Son

Congratulations to E.N. Bisso & Son for its recent ISM certfication by ABS. The company has worked hard to achieve this goal with VP Mike Vitt leading the effort for the company. E.N. Bisso & Son partnered with Maritime Compliance International a decade ago. When they made the decision to seek ISM certification we developed their safety management system (SMS) into the ISM format, provided safety management workbooks for all captains to complete and learn the company's SMS, and conducted quarterly visits to each vessel to ensure steady progress. The ISM manual was approved with no deficiencies, the Document of Compliance was issued to the company following a successful audit, and now the vessels are being audited and issued their Safety Management Certificates. It is a pleasure to work with such dedicated clients.

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Subchapter M - 18 Months to Comply

There are now 18 months left to get towing vessels into compliance with Subchapter M. According to our Subchapter M Strategic Plan, by now all captains should have read Subchapter M, as well as all managers, who should also have read the Subchapter M Preamble in the Federal Register. Additionally, companies should have decided which compliance option they will go with. We developed a Compliance Option Decision Tool to help in this process. It takes into account seven important factors for towing vessel companies to consider, free of spin and sales pitches. So, if you haven't done that much yet, you should consider catching up.

January 1 is the date set for companies to begin getting their boats into compliance by getting a comprehensive Subchapter M survey for each vessel. We recently completed our first two Subchapter M surveys for a client.  In order to do this properly, the company must first make some important decisions: the vessel route; number of persons in the crew; number of persons in addition to the crew; warm or cold water operation; excepted vessel or not; and the compliance option. The survey should be based upon these assumptions. Once the company has a comprehensive regulatory compliance survey report, they can budget and plan out the timing of upgrades throughout the year. 

April 1 is the date set to establish how the requirements for written records, operational policies and procedures, and training will be met. Some of our clients are getting ahead of the game by implementing our comprehensive Towing Vessel Record/ Compliance Management System, which includes all required records, policies and procedures. With a good survey, our comprehensive system, and some training, these clients are all set for Subchapter M. 

The items discussed above apply to all towing vessels, regardless of the compliance option. For those companies choosing the Third Party Option, they have a number of other considerations. More on that next time. 

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Subchapter M Resources

 We now have 20 months to get into compliance with Subchapter M. Hopefully, you have a solid plan and are on track.

But you can never have enough information, so I wanted to let you know of these resources: The International Workboat Show will be held in New Orleans from November 30 through December 2. If you are attending the conference series at the show, please try to make my Subchapter M Compliance Management session on Thursday afternoon. I guarantee you will hear things you haven't heard before and will learn something new.

If you're at the Workboat Show and have questions, please come by our booth 2308, say hello, and pick up a free copy of our Subchapter M Compliance Option Decision Matrix and our Subchapter M Strategic Plan for Towing Vessel Companies.

If you haven't already done so, I recommend you enter your email address, free of charge, in the subscribe box at the top of this page. You will only get an email notiication when something important has been posted.

Finally, please be on the lookout for my article on Subchapter M in the upcoming Maritime Executive Magazine. If you don't get it delivered, be sure to pick up a free copy at the Workboat Show, or look for it online. We are looking forward to seeing you and helping to make your transition as painless as possible.
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USCG on the Subchapter M Coast Guard Option

On October 4, 2016, I attended a joint Subchapter M conference in New Orleans put on by the American Waterways Operators (AWO) and the U.S. Coast Guard. The AWO representative gave a great overview of Subchapter M, with particular emphasis on issues of concern to industry that they have been working on with the Coast Guard. Both parties should be commended for their efforts and results.

Coast Guard comments
The presentation by the Coast Guard was given by Captain Verne Gifford, Chief of Inspections and Compliance at Coast Guard Headquarters. Much of Captain Gifford's presentation focused on the Coast Guard's efforts to incentivize the Third Party TSMS option. The Coast Guard is concerned about manpower issues to inspect the 5,719 towing vessels in the U.S.

I took the opportunity during the Q&A session to ask Captain Gifford to address some of the concerns I had heard from industry in response to the latest round of Subchapter M frequently asked questions (FAQs) issued by headquarters. I told the Captain that the FAQs seemed so one-sided in their attempt to incentivize the Third Party TSMS option that I have heard comments such as, "I don't even think the Coast Guard wrote these," and "This sounds like intimidation!" Captain Gifford assured us that it was not the Coast Guard's intent to intimidate anyone, one way or the other, but that the Coast Guard does have concerns about available manpower to get the inspections done in a timely fashion. He estimated that half of the towing vessel fleet will go with the Coast Guard option. Other senior officers on the panel chimed in and explained that currently, inspections in the Eighth District are scheduled several weeks in advance, and sometimes only a few days. They stated, if you can deal with that, the Coast Guard option may be for you. Rear Admiral Callahan, Commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District, added that if you want to go with the Coast Guard option, they would do their best to accommodate you, but he just couldn't promise how timely they would be in doing so.

Biggest takeaway
Rear Admiral Callahan also provided the biggest takeaway for me at the end of his introductory remarks. He said he was going off-script when he gave us three things to ponder (paraphrased): 1. Does your safety management system (SMS) foster compliance, or a safety culture? 2. Is your SMS implemented, or is it just sitting on the shelf? 3. If your SMS is implemented, is it implemented across all levels of the company: top management, middle management, and on the deck plates?

Normally, I might consider these comments standard Coast Guard SMS philosophy, but taken in the context of this conference where much of the talk was centered on going with the Third Party TSMS option, I took it as a warning. A warning to towing vessel companies to ensure, before they jump on this Third Party TSMS option, that everyone in the company is ready, from the deckhands on up.

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Who wrote the Subchapter M FAQs?

Having worked for, or with, the Coast Guard for over 30 years, I found the latest round of Subchapter M "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)" quite strange. I understand that the Coast Guard is having to deal with quite a few new vessels to inspect, and that they may be trying to appease those who wanted the third party TSMS option to be the only option, but this latest round of FAQs dated August 31, 2016 reads more like a talking points memo with plenty of spin to sway readers in one direction. 

Having discussed it with some clients, I am not alone in having this perception. One of my clients stated after reading them, "This sounds like intimidation!" I have nothing to base this on other than my gut, but my gut tells me these FAQs were not written by the Coast Guard.

Great! TPO doesn't have to go on my individual boats?
The first question I have is, what qualifies these to be frequently asked questions? Some of these questions seem pretty obscure, designed solely to be able to provide an answer with an agenda. For example: What must a TPO do before issuing a TSMS Certificate? Really? Even if all the TPOs asked this, I'm not sure it would qualify as a FAQ. But the last line of the answer explains the question: The TPO is not required to visit individual vessels before issuing a TSMS certificate. Reading this one might think: Oh, great, that's what I was worried about. I know the office has it down pat, but the boats have me concerned. What the answer doesn't say is the boats still have to pass a third party external audit in order to get a COI.

Great! Third Party Option takers have greater flexibility in scheduling and less down time.
When I was a Coast Guard marine inspector the vessel company called us up, we asked what day they wanted, we marked it in our book. Every morning we checked the book, divided up the jobs and went and did them. Only those who were not ready for inspection had problems. 

Great! Third Party Option takers get a de-scoped COI inspection and the Coast Guard option people get the full business.
I'm no lawyer, but the regulations are usually in line with the law, and the policy is usually in line with the regulations. The regulations clearly state what the COI inspection "will include." Only the annual inspection, according to the regulations, "will cover less detail." This is standard operating procedure, but a de-scoped COI inspection seems to be a stretch. 

How will the Coast Guard ensure compliance for vessels taking the Coast Guard only option? 
This answer is so over the top, I only have one suggestion: remove the words "ensure compliance for" and replace them with the word "punish."

Will the Coast Guard use Petty Officers for Subchapter M?
What a curious "frequently" asked question. I have never heard anyone ask this. Most people don't know an enlisted person from an officer. On the other hand, I have heard many unfortunate stories about the inconsistency and lack of knowledge demonstrated by enlisted towing vessel examiners during the bridging program. One towboat owner assured me he would not be using the Subchapter M Coast Guard option due to his experience with the enlisted towing vessel examiners. Oh, wait. I get it now. That's why this was included as an FAQ…

It's interesting that there were no FAQs about the strong language in the regulations regarding Coast Guard oversight of the TPOs and vessels under the TSMS option.

I like to warn clients to beware of the sales pitch. I guess sales pitches come from all angles these days. 

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Subchapter M Mythology

 According to informed sources we should see the Subchapter M final rule within a few months. Despite the fact that the proposed rule has been published for years, there is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding. Some operators are willing to pay consultants to tell them what to do, and others will try to make sense of it on their own. Still others will just wait until the Coast Guard shows up and see what happens.

There is no substitute for educating yourself. Understanding the ins and outs of operating as an inspected vessel empowers operators to protect themselves from costly compliance errors that arise from well intentioned, but misinformed, individuals. I have heard a great deal of misinformation lately on Subchapter M.

Here are the Top Ten bits of Subchapter M misinformation:

  • Under Subchapter M a towing vessel must have a towing safety management system (TSMS).
  • If the company is currently operating under a voluntary safety management system, they must use the third party TSMS option.
  • The masters will be insulated from the Coast Guard by sharp office employees.
  • If a firefighting or lifesaving issue is found that the Coast Guard would shut a boat down for, a third party surveyor will be able to let the boat continue to operate.
  • An audit involves a plan review and vessel survey only, not interviews with the crews to see if they know and follow the written policies and procedures.
  • If a boat claims to be a fleet boat in order to minimize equipment requirements, the Certificate of Inspection (COI) will not restrict its operations to a particular fleet, potentially reducing its appraised value.
  • Saying, "I don't know, but I know where to look it up," is typically a satisfactory answer for the Coast Guard.
  • The Coast Guard wants you to use the third party TSMS option and may even retaliate if you don't because they are understaffed.
  • A captain cannot have his license revoked for failure to follow the safety management policies and procedures.
  • An auditor, or surveyor, cannot go to jail for passing a vessel audit or survey when the vessel or company does not meet the standard.

Don't begin at a disadvantage. Come join us for our Subchapter M Workshop on May 6th in New Orleans. Learn from retired Coast Guard marine safety personnel, with a combined 70 years of Coast Guard experience, and learn the truth and how to best prepare for success.
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Don't Forget To Update Your RCP SMS

There are a number of changes going into effect on January 1, 2016 regarding AWO Responsible Carrier Program. The TVIB has a new management worksheet that reflects the new changes. I recently conducted a gap analysis of a client's RCP SMS that I had drafted years ago, using the new TVIB management worksheet. The new TVIB management worksheet is 136 pages long, with 506 items to check. An SMS should be checked to see if an item is addressed, if it meets the expectation listed in the worksheet, and if the item meets the TVIB definition of a policy, procedure, program, etc. At the end of my gap analysis, I came up with approximately 100 changes to make to the SMS.

Don't wait until your next external audit to find out what you are missing.

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Audits, Manual Reviews, and Surveys

An audit should not include a comprehensive manual review and comprehensive inspection of a vessel. These three functions should be kept separate and distinct in order to preserve the quality of the audit.

My experience as a Coast Guard marine inspector in verifying audited programs, was all based around International Safety Management (ISM). As proposed, Subchapter M offers a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) option structured to look very much like ISM. For those readers unfamiliar with how ISM works, these are the basics of the program. Once a company chooses, or is required by regulation, to adopt ISM, a safety management manual is put together in accordance with the ISM Code (hopefully not bought off the shelf). The Company then contracts with a "recognized organization," such as an authorized classification society, who will review the manual, audit company and vessels, and issue the international certificates on behalf of the flag. This process is included in Subchapter M, however, the "recognized organization" is referred to a "third party organization."

The company takes time to refine their processes, and their manual, and works toward implementation. The SMS manual is then submitted to the recognized organization (authorized classification society) for review and approval. During this desktop review, the classification society makes sure that it includes all the requirements of, the ISM Code, the flag state, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and of that particular classification society. The safety management manual is then "approved." A comprehensive manual review does not occur every time the vessel is audited.

Once the manual is approved, audits are scheduled. First an office audit to ensure the company is following the requirements of the company's SMS manual. If the company passes the audit a Document of Compliance (DOC) is issued to the company. There is no equivalent to the DOC in Subchapter M. Then comes an audit of each vessel to ensure that the vessel is following the requirements of the company's SMS manual. The main players in this process are the master of the vessel and the auditor. Often times no one else from the company is present. If the vessel passes the audit, a Safety Management Certificate (SMC) is issued to the vessel. There is an equivalent to the SMC in Subchapter M, as it calls for a Towing Safety Management Certificate (TSMC) to be issued to the vessel.

Having been involved with towing industry audits since my retirement from the Coast Guard, I have found it strange that an "audit" usually includes an entire plan review and a comprehensive inspection of the vessel. During an ISM audit the auditor will walk-through the vessel with a focus on verifying certain items from the SMS manual policies and procedures. However, an entire inspection, or survey, of the vessel is not conducted. That is an entirely separate function conducted by flag state inspectors. These two separate processes are distinct in Subchapter M, as the proposed Subchapter calls for, if chosen, the use of third party surveyors to conduct the flag state inspection (survey) of the towing vessel, in addition to the use of third party auditors to audit implementation of the TSMS. However, the Subchapter does allow for getting the vessel survey items done under an audited program.

Hopefully, Subchapter M will follow ISM in that the TSMS manual will be reviewed and approved up front, and the survey function will be kept separate from the audit function. It is essential to not bog down an auditor with such repetitive duties, and allow him to focus on the task at hand: ensuring the vessel is being operated in accordance with the TSMS policies and procedures applicable to the vessel.

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Sub M – What Should You Be Doing Now?

Six months and counting… Perhaps this deadline for the Subchapter M Final Rule will be the final one. It certainly feels that way. Folks in the know seem to be more confident than ever before. I'm also starting to see the media buzz, and our company has received requests for assistance from five new towboat companies just in the past month. So, what should towboat companies be doing now to prepare? The first thing towboat companies should do is decide on their compliance option.

As proposed, 46 CFR 136.130 outlines that towing vessel companies have two options for obtaining a Certificate of Inspection (COI) for a vessel. The first option is inspection of the vessel by the Coast Guard. This is a traditional Coast Guard inspection of the vessel, not an audit. A health and safety plan will be required and there are significant record requirements contained in Subchapter M, but those items fall far short of a safety management system. Under the proposed Subchapter M, a safety management system is not required for towing vessels. In fact, under the U.S. flag, safety management systems are not required for any class of vessel other than a deep draft ship on an international voyage.

The second compliance option is to comply with the requirements of a Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) and to use approved third parties. Making this choice will be the single biggest decision for any towing vessel company, because the demands placed upon the company by voluntarily choosing to use a TSMS as a compliance option to obtain a vessel's COI will be much greater.

It makes no difference if a towing company is already operating under a safety management system. They may still choose to go with the Coast Guard option to get its COI, because, as proposed, safety management is not required by regulation for towing vessels. The proposed regulation requires vessel operators to fill out an application for inspection for each vessel, and each application will require the operator to check the compliance option for each vessel. Therefore, an operator may choose the TSMS option for some vessels and the Coast Guard option for others.

There are lots of opinions being expressed about this. Some sound like sales pitches disguised as sound advice. But even though our company develops TSMSs as a major part of our business, if I owned a towboat, I would check the Coast Guard compliance option. I would not bet my COI that the captain and crew are going to convince the auditor that the vessel is in compliance with proposed 46 CFR 140.205(b). That federal regulations states: "towing vessels with a TSMS must be operated in accordance with the TSMS applicable to the vessel." For example, the auditor finds a four-inch thick TSMS on board and asks the captain if he has read it yet. The captain responds that he has skimmed through it, which means no. Some auditors might not care. But who wants to bet that you won't get the auditor who says: How can I certify, under penalty of 18 USC 1001 (making false statements), that the vessel is being operated in accordance with the TSMS, if the captain admits he hasn't even read it yet?

Choose wisely. 

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No One Reads a Telephone Book

 Towboat captains take pride in their craft: driving boats. That's what they enjoy, and that's what they signed up for. They are respected for their ability to handle boats, and are paid well for their experience. So why then do we put a big fat telephone book of a safety management system (SMS) on the boat and expect the captains to actually follow the procedures in that the telephone book?

The truth is, a safety management system for towing vessels does not have to be large and cumbersome, especially for small and mid-size companies. The format of having purpose, scope, definitions, and responsibility preceding every procedure may not be the best approach. If you are running a shipping company with 80 vessels across the globe, and offices on four continents, maybe that is the way to go. But for small and mid-sized towing companies, for the most part, these items can be addressed up front, significantly reducing the size and complexity for the end user.

Years ago we came up with an SMS format intended to maximize the possibility that crews might actually use it. We removed all the extra verbiage, "bulletized" as many procedures as possible, and made it all 14 point font. We have applied this method successfully with all the different SMSs in our industry today, including helping a client get to TMSA stage 1.

With recent changes to industry SMS requirements I have heard from clients who think that these changes, including TMSA standards, will require them to revert to telephone book format. This could not be farther from the truth. The quality of an SMS is not measured by how many words it contains. An SMS which covers all requirements, and can actually be read and understood by crews is what each company should strive for.

A few years ago we developed an International Safety Management (ISM) SMS for a client. We kept to our streamlined format and included all standard industry policies and procedures, and it was still only 125 pages. Did the seasoned classification society surveyor say it wasn't comprehensive enough? On the contrary, he said it could be reduced further. Don't fall into the trap of thinking more is better to impress an auditor, or the Coast Guard. Streamline, and make sure your crews are actually following the written procedures. Now, that's impressive.
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When should a checklist be required?

Have you ever wondered why a watch relief checklist is common in the industry, but a bridge transit procedure checklist is not? I'm not sure the reason is given much thought. Consultants seem to think lots of forms make their manuals more professional, managers like the idea of having everything documented, and mariners feel they are the victims of a useless paperwork onslaught. A mariner, who was sick of all the foolish paperwork he was forced to do, once wrote about making a fake ISM form for how many sugar cubes were used by individuals at the ship's coffee mess. His point was proved when the crew did indeed; fill out the ISM sugar cube usage form.

Some in management feel making employees complete and turn in signed checklists is a good way of covering themselves. However, the value of that is questionable, and it may be counter-productive from a leadership stand point. After all, no one wants to have to complete a checklist just so their boss can cover his ass.

I recently read an excellent book on the topic of checklist usage. I highly recommend it to all individuals involved in the development of management systems and procedures. The book is The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right; by Atul Gawande. This book makes a compelling case for the use of the checklists, through case studies in the medical and aviation fields.

When inspections are done, the use of a checklist is a good quality control measure to make sure nothing is missed. An engineer once told me he stopped using the engineering inspection checklist because he could do it from memory. After I had him close his eyes and imagine going down to the engine room and listing all the items he checked, he only listed 14% of the items on the checklist.

Clearly doing a detailed inspection requires a job aid for quality control. It is the operational checklist which is more complicated to determine. The methodology that we use to determine when a checklist is required is based upon risk assessment. A checklist may be required when: the task is done infrequently and therefore the risk of skipping a step is likely; and/ or, the consequence for missing a step is serious.

Why do airline pilots, who take off and land constantly, complete a checklist? Think of the consequence for missing something. When it comes to these decisions, aviation has it easy. In the maritime industry it requires a little more thought to figure out which checklists are required, and which are not. But the paperwork requirements are a little less tough to swallow when the reasoning behind them can be explained logically. Conversely, if a good risk-based argument can't be made for a particular checklist, get rid of it.
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Increased Scrutiny of SMS Implementation by U.S. Coast Guard

 When it comes to what constitutes full implementation of a safety management system such as the International Safety Management (ISM) Code, there seems to be a disconnect between what different stakeholders believe to be adequate. Different flag states, recognized organizations, class societies, and port state control authorities enforce the code to their own standards, not to mention each individual auditor's experience and subjective opinions.  The real disparity becomes painfully clear during times of major accident investigations and litigation, when everything is put under a microscope and the level of implementation that was considered "satisfactory" at the last audit can now constitute alleged negligence.

A company may have an acceptable safety management system and a satisfactory level of implementation, that is, until there is a serious casualty.  Once there is a serious casualty, the implication can be that whatever was being done before the accident was obviously inadequate, regardless of how many enforcement officials and auditors had blessed the program previously.  This is not what the ISM was intended to be, but it is unarguably what it has evolved into.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the U.S. Coast Guard's report of investigation on the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  The report finds fault with all stakeholders and pulls no punches. 

There must be clear and consistent expectations if ISM is going to be implemented as designed.  It seems the U.S. Coast Guard may now be thinking in a similar fashion. In the Deepwater Horizon report the recommendations include an investigation to see if a change to the current inspection and enforcement methods is required to increase compliance with the ISM code. Increased scrutiny of adherence to policies and procedures may be on the horizon. Vessel operators, including towing vessel operators in the U.S. who will soon be required by regulation to implement a safety management system, should start now making sure that their policies and procedures are actually being followed.

Say what you do, do what you say, and be able to prove it!
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RCP v. Subchapter M

The proposed rule containing regulations for the inspection of towing vessels, known as Subchapter M, is due to be published in a few months.  It is expected that these regulations will include a towing vessel safety management systems. Many towing vessel companies currently have a safety management system (SMS) in place known as the American Waterways Operators (AWO) Responsible Carrier Program (RCP).  Having been both a U.S. Coast Guard marine inspector and an AWO RCP auditor, I have noticed a different expectation regarding the level of implementation required between inspected vessel's SMS and RCP. I suspect that some RCP companies might have a difficult time with Subchapter M enforcement if they don't step up the level of implementation.


An interesting marine casualty report has been published by the Coast Guard regarding the unfortunate death of a U.S. merchant mariner. I recommend anyone involved in an SMS click on the link below, and/or if the link times out: go to Homeport, Investigations, & scroll down and open "S/R Wilmington Personnel Casualty," and take note of the emphasis placed on the SMS in this accident report, and how the Coast Guard intends to step up SMS enforcement.


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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.A conversation I had with an attorney after a serious accident really drove home the importance of "saying what you do, and doing what you say." I discussed my concerns with some SMSs which can never be complied with due to the way they are written. I explained that some companies seem to have brainstormed with a bunch of "old salts" and come up with every possible thing that could ever go wrong during any one evolution. While this is never a bad idea and produces excellent training material, it was how the information was incorporated into the SMS which created the problem. After the comprehensive list had been compiled, it was entered into the SMS and labeled, "The following items must be checked prior to conducting the following evolution…." I explained that the problem I have found as an auditor is, despite the SMS mandating that the entire extensive comprehensive list be completed every time, the crewmembers can only explain the two or three items they actually check. The attorney was well aware of this problem and explained that is why a company's SMS manual can serve as a "checklist for negligence" during litigation. 

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