2015: An Action Year for Subchapter M

By Jennifer Carpenter, Executive Vice President of The American Waterways Operators

For all of the predictions and prognostications that have been made over the last ten years, one thing is objectively true: the publication of Subchapter M – the U.S. Coast Guard’s long-awaited towing vessel inspection rule – is closer than it’s ever been.
Yes, the road to Subchapter M has been long, but the end is in sight (really). As we approach our destination, both the Coast Guard and the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry have work to do to ensure that the way is well paved. The towing vessel inspection rules promise to take industry safety to a new and historic level, but our ability to fully realize that promise will depend on our success in implementing the rule. We have an opportunity, and an obligation, to work together between now and the time the rule is released to put policy in place and to prepare for compliance so that the transition to Subchapter M is as smooth as possible, both for industry and for the Coast Guard.
AWO’s work on Subchapter M in 2015 has three goals: to get it out, get it right, and get members prepared for effective implementation.

Get It Out
Subchapter M offers the opportunity to enhance safety throughout the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry – an opportunity that has been too long delayed and deferred. With the active partnership of the U.S. Coast Guard, Congress, and our customers, our industry has been on a journey of continuous improvement to advance our shared goals of protecting human life, the environment, and property as we transport the nation’s waterborne commerce, a journey marked by both private sector leadership and responsible public policymaking. The towing vessel inspection rule will cap this tremendous progress by raising the regulatory bar to ensure that all towing vessels achieve a minimum threshold of safety. This rising tide will indeed lift all boats.
AWO recognizes and respects the Coast Guard’s careful consideration of the towing vessel inspection rule. A rulemaking project of this scope and importance must be done right. But given the significant implications of the rule for industry safety, the time has come to get it done. When the Coast Guard completes its work on Subchapter M, we will urge the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Management and Budget to give the rule their prompt attention to advance our mutual goal of a safe, secure, and environmentally sound marine transportation system.

Get It Right
The Coast Guard’s work will not end when Subchapter M enters the administration clearance process. Sound policy guidance on a range of important issues will be critical to ensure that the agency and the industry can correctly and consistently interpret the rule and transition smoothly to inspection. To minimize confusion and mitigate concerns, this guidance should be released as close to contemporaneously with the publication of the towing vessel inspection rule as is possible.
Throughout the development of Subchapter M, the Coast Guard has engaged industry stakeholders in an inclusive and thoughtful way, and we urge the agency to take the same approach to the development of implementation policy guidance. The Congressionally authorized Towing Safety Advisory Committee (TSAC), which has already offered recommendations to the Coast Guard on manning levels and hull inspection and repair standards, is perfectly positioned to assist the Coast Guard in formulating policy guidance on issues that will be integral to the successful implementation of Subchapter M.
The Coast Guard can also facilitate the transition to inspection by accepting the AWO Responsible Carrier Program (RCP), the most widely used safety management system in the towing industry, as a Towing Safety Management System under Subchapter M. The Coast Guard has acknowledged that it is in the agency’s best interest to do so, and is reviewing recent changes to the AWO RCP intended to align it with the requirements for a TSMS outlined in the agency’s 2011 notice of proposed rulemaking.

Get Prepared
Both industry and the Coast Guard must also consider the additional steps we can take to prepare for the publication and implementation of Subchapter M. For AWO, this means educating our members about actions that will assist them and their employees in coming into compliance with the towing vessel inspection rule.
AWO is advising members to re-read the 2011 notice of proposed rulemaking, as the Coast Guard has acknowledged that the forthcoming final rule will retain many of the requirements of the NPRM. Many AWO members are also working to ensure that the most important elements of their safety management systems – including policies and procedures for risk assessment and management, near-miss reporting and investigation, and preventative and corrective action – are robustly implemented, as these will ease the transition to and facilitate compliance with Subchapter M.
The Coast Guard has also indicated that it is planning a nationwide rollout and outreach effort to ensure that the industry is ready when Subchapter M takes effect. AWO will work closely with the Coast Guard to ensure that all companies have the information they need to implement Subchapter M effectively.
While it may be tempting to adopt a wait-and-see posture – we’ve all heard the quips about “Subchapter Maybe” – this is not the time for our industry to sit idle. We have almost reached the end of the long road to Subchapter M, and we cannot afford to slacken our pace now.


(As published in the April 2015 edition of Marine News - http://magazines.marinelink.com/Magazines/MaritimeNews)


Marine News Magazine, page 22,  Apr 2015

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