For several years now, the biggest ongoing news for our industry has been the implementation of Subchapter M. The preparation for it took about 10 years. One year into the actual implementation, the fruits of all that discussion and preparation are being made clear.
To mark the one-year anniversary of its final rollout, The American Waterways Operators held a webinar July 24 during which participants could pose questions to Capt. Matt Edwards, chief of commercial vessel compliance.
According to Edwards, 915 certificates of inspection (COIs) have been issued to date, with another 450 in progress. That makes the Coast Guard “close” to its goal of having 1,300 COIs issued within the first year, he said. According to a poll question during the webinar, according to Caitlyn Stewart, director of regulatory affairs for AWO, 89 percent of question respondents said their company had chosen the Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) option, 7 percent of respondents opted for direct Coast Guard inspections, while 4 percent chose some mix of the two for their vessels. (While voluntary poll responses are not scientific, AWO officials said those responses are roughly in line with their figures.) AWO members are required to have a TSMS regardless of whether or not they choose a direct Coast Guard inspection.
As in the first year of any marriage, ongoing issues are being discussed, and accommodations and compromises are being worked out. Some fears—about over-booked shipyards, for example—have not come to pass.
The Coast Guard’s frankly stated goal in the Sub M implementation has been to share some of the burden of inspection, while allowing itself the flexibility to respond where needed. For instance, officers in charge of marine inspection (OCMIs) are not required to attend audits of vessels using a third-party auditor, although they may do so. Third-party providers are succeeding in taking some of the inspection load off the Coast Guard.
From the industry’s perspective, the discretion that OCMI’s have to interpret some facets of Sub M regulations may raise concerns about consistency of rulings from zone to zone. From the Coast Guard’s perspective, that flexibility is important to manage and distribute its inspection workload among its always-constrained resources. That flexibility will be even more important between now and next July, when companies will have to have 50 percent of their vessels certificated.
The AWO’s continued mediation between members and the Coast Guard continues to be valuable in spotting trends, saving time and money and resolving issues, resulting in some policy guidance that has improved consistency among zones.
The full AWO webinar will be made available on AWO’s website. The bottom line is that the discussions appear to show a system with enough flexibility and ongoing communication to adjust to issues as they arise. The Coast Guard is doing the right thing by encouraging industry involvement, and we hope the partnership continues.