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Sweeping Changes Take Effect Under 2010 Coast Guard Authorization Act

February 9, 2011

In October of last year, President Obama signed into law the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010. This legislation expands and increases civil penalties for violations of Coast Guard regulations, requires the Coast Guard to work with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) on reducing emission controls from marine vessels, and directs the Coast Guard to engage with other nations on matters pertaining to arctic maritime activities. The new act also provides appropriations for the Coast Guard to enable it to improve aids to navigation, onshore and offshore facilities, rescue capabilities, and marine safety, to pay for the removal of bridges over U.S. navigable waters constituting obstructions to navigation, and to step up environmental compliance efforts, among many other programs. The bill authorizes $10.2 billion in fiscal year 2011 for the Coast Guard and increases the authorized end-strength for Coast Guard personnel by 1,500 members to 47,000 total personnel.

Among the more important elements of this 128-page bill to operators of freighters, tankers, and cruise ships are the following:  

  • The legislation requires the Coast Guard Commandant to appoint in each Coast Guard district a District Ombudsman to serve as a liaison between the Coast Guard and ports, terminal operators, ship owners, and labor representatives, including examining complaints by those operating in a port, or by Coast Guard personnel.
  • The legislation amends the Rivers and Harbors Appropriations Act of 1915 to: (1) increase the civil penalty for an owner of a vessel that violates regulations establishing anchorage grounds for safe navigation in U.S. waters; and (2) extend the Coast Guard’s authority to establish anchorage grounds for vessels from 3 nautical miles to 12 nautical miles.
  • Subjects to a civil penalty, any person who knowingly or intentionally possesses a controlled substance on a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
  • Requires the Coast Guard Commandant, in conjunction with the Administrator of the EPA, to report on new and existing technology for reducing air emissions from cargo or passenger ships in U.S. waters and ports, and impediments to demonstrating that technology.
  • Encourages the secretary of the department in which the Coast Guard is operating (Secretary) to work through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to establish agreements to promote coordinated action among the United States, Russia, Canada, Iceland, Norway, and Denmark and other seafaring and Arctic nations to ensure, in the Arctic: (1) placement and maintenance of aids to navigation; (2) appropriate icebreaking escort, tug, and salvage capabilities; (3) oil spill prevention and response capability; (4) maritime domain awareness, including long-range vessel tracking; and (5) search and rescue capabilities.
  • Directs the Secretary to develop a long-term strategy for improving vessel safety and the safety of individuals on vessels, including annual issuance of a plan and schedule for achieving specified goals. Requires a related report to Congress.
  • The Act authorizes the Commandant of the Coast Guard to make grants to or to enter into cooperative agreements or contracts with international maritime organizations for acquiring information about merchant vessel inspections; security; safety and environmental protection; classification; and port state or flag state law enforcement or oversight.
  • The Act reorganizes the Coast Guard’s senior leadership, establishes career tracks for members of the Coast Guard to develop expertise in a specific Coast Guard mission, and modernizes management of the service’s marine safety program. It requires minimum qualifications for marine safety personnel. It further requires the Coast Guard to develop a long-term strategy for improving vessel safety, authorizing the creation of centers of expertise for marine safety, and requires the Commandant to report to Congress on efforts to recruit and retain civilian marine inspectors and investigators.
  • The legislation requires the Coast Guard to issue regulations regarding transfers of oil between vessels, in an effort to reduce the risk of oil spills. It requires a study, using voluntarily submitted data, into the causes of human errors leading to oil spills. It also extends liability for oil spills to the owners of cargo shipped on single-hulled vessels.
  • It amends the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to make not more than $15 million of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund available each fiscal year to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere for expenses and activities related to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s response and damage assessment capabilities.
  • It directs the Secretary to: (1) study and report on measures to improve the security of maritime transportation of especially hazardous cargo; and (2) develop a national strategy for the waterside security of vessels carrying, and waterfront facilities handling, such cargo. It requires the Coast Guard, consistent with other provisions of law, to enforce any security zone established by the Coast Guard around a vessel containing such cargo.
  • The legislation authorizes the Secretary to issue regulations requiring a vessel owner or managing operator of a commercial vessel, or the employer of a seaman on that vessel, to maintain records of each individual engaged on the vessel subject to inspection on matters of engagement, discharge, and service, and to make these records available to the individual and the Coast Guard on request. It imposes a civil monetary penalty for violations.
  • The Act adds to the list of acts related to marine safety for which a seaman may not be discharged or discriminated against, including that the seaman testified in a maritime-safety law-enforcement proceeding or cooperated with a safety investigation. It replaces provisions permitting civil actions by a seaman alleging discharge or discrimination with provisions allowing the seaman to use the Department of Labor complaint process used by commercial drivers, railroad workers, and aviation workers.
  • The legislation requires certain new U.S. vessels with a construction contract date after enactment of this title, or delivered after January 1, 2011, to comply with specified oil fuel tank protection standards.
  • It requires the Secretary of Homeland Security, subject to available appropriations, to begin to increase the number of detection canine teams certified by the Coast Guard for maritime-related security by at least 10 canine teams annually through fiscal year 2012 and to encourage owners and operators of port facilities, passenger cruise liners, oceangoing cargo vessels, and other vessels to strengthen security through the use of highly trained detection canine teams.
  • This legislation allows the Secretary to find that a foreign port does not maintain effective antiterrorism measures, without having to perform an inspection of such port. It requires the Secretary, unless the Secretary finds that a foreign port maintains such measures, to notify: (1) foreign authorities and recommend antiterrorism measures; and (2) passengers. It authorizes conditions and denials of entry into the United States for certain vessels unless the Secretary makes such a finding.
  • The bill directs the Secretary and the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere to revise the area to be avoided off the coast of the state of Washington so that restrictions apply to all vessels required to prepare a response plan under specified provisions of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (other than fishing or research vessels while engaged in fishing or research in the area to be avoided).

The legislation contains numerous additional provisions with which the maritime operator should be familiar. The complete text can be found here.