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.

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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Nontank Vessel Response Plans

 Hopefully you made the deadline of January 30th to submit your Nontank Vessel Response Plan (NTVRP) to the Coast Guard. According to Coast Guard Headquarters, on January 31, 2014, all old nontank vessel response plans were to be deactivated. That's because the long awaited final rule for the nontank vessel response plan regulations was published a few months ago. The old nontank vessel response plans were drafted based upon Coast Guard guidance, which is now superseded by the regulation.

The regulation applies to any vessel operating in U.S. water that is measured 400 gross tons or more, regulatory or ITC. From there, the sub-applicabilities get a little complicated based upon capacities. Some of the additional service requirements include fire-fighting and salvage, dispersants, aerial surveillance, shoreline protection and shoreline clean-up. If applicable, evidence of signed contracts for these services must be submitted with the NTVRP.

In conducting a gap analysis on one of our own plans, there didn't appear to be much difference between the old guidance and the new regulation with regards to the actual content of the plan. However there were some additional requirements to be added to the NTVRP.  If you have an existing plan that was fully compliant there shouldn't be too much work involved. Some companies may have not have conducted a thorough gap analysis between their existing NTVRP and the new regulations in trying to meet the deadline. If so, the Coast Guard will notify those companies that their current NTVRP are inadequate.

The Coast Guard has many NTVRPs to review. It will take some time for all the interim operating letters to go out, and even longer for approval letters to be issued.
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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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Is the Coast Guard “in bed” with BP?

Here in New Orleans much of the discussion on talk radio is centered on the Coast Guard's handling of the BP/ Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Following the lackluster response to Katrina, the general public and local officials want swift and decisive action from federal responders. The problem is that the existing process set up by law makes the spiller responsible for the clean-up. The federal government requires operators to have response plans and contracts in place to clean up oil spills. The feds are responsible to make sure that the approved plans are followed. The general public and local officials have little understanding or tolerance for such processes during an emergency. In fact, some people seem to think that in a disaster all laws become suggestions commonly referred to as "red tape."


If we want to improve our response in the future we must look at the factors which make government respond the way it does: laws and regulations. If an agency charged with enforcing laws and regulations steps in to intervene on response activities, they are looked at as obstructionist bureaucrats. Nothing will make federal agencies respond differently the next time by declaring them "Stuck on stupid." Perhaps if the federal on-scene coordinator had waiver authority for all laws and regulations, and was shielded from all personal liability, the response would be smoother. Short of that, I suspect the general public will continue to be disappointed.


The Coast Guard is not perfect, and the disappointment of the public is understandable. However, the assertion that is being thrown about on talk radio and other media, that the Coast Guard and BP are in cahoots, is absurd. The latest accusation has resulted from a battle of letters between a parish president and a Coast Guard Admiral. According to NOLA.com, on July 22, St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis issued an executive order threatening arrest of anyone who tries to remove the barges protecting Lake Pontchartrain from encroaching oil. Davis issued that executive order after receiving a letter from Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft explaining that oil response assets would be repositioned due to an approaching storm. Rear Adm. Zukunft responded to Kevin Davis' executive order with a letter which, according to the local Fox 8 News affiliate, states, "I am concerned that the tone of this order is inconsistent with your avowed desire to be a contributing partner in this response. For these reasons, I respectfully ask that you either rescind this order or take all action necessary to ensure that there is no interference with the ongoing federal response. Interference with personnel acting at the direction of the federal on-scene coordinator is a federal offense." The letter was "cc'd" to the U.S. attorney. The resulting story being spun in the local media is that the Coast Guard has threatened to arrest the parish president, which provides more evidence that the Coast Guard is looking out for BP's interests and not the interest of the taxpayers.


The Coast Guard may be guilty of officiousness but certainly not conspiracy. It is difficult to win in the court of public opinion when local officials have the upper hand when dealing with the media. But the media spin must be considered on every action taken these days, even when drafting letters not intended for public disclosure. Who would have thought that five years after the Coast Guard performed heroically in the saving of over 24,000 lives during Hurricane Katrina, that they would be publically booed by the same citizens when their presence was announced at a minor league baseball game? 

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