New Group Brings Together Compliance Professionals

A new organization that began as a distributed email list with occasional meetings is bringing together professionals who work in inland waterway compliance for mutual support and networking. The first group of about 25 people that would later become the Marine Compliance Alliance Inc. met in 2019 at Shandies restaurant in Paducah, Ky. All were involved in compliance activities on the inland waterways. 

Today the group is formally established as a 501 (c)(6) nonprofit and has more than 150 paid-up members, and interest continues to grow. Its mission is to serve as the independent voice of marine compliance professionals, to help members share best practices, to communicate with regulating authorities and to advocate for reasonable regulation. 

Mark Sawyer was among that initial group and serves as its executive director. About that initial meeting, Sawyer said, “We all wanted to raise the bar on compliance.” Members shared best practices and tips about everything from training modules to audits. All the members either belong to third-party organizations concerned with inland waterway compliance, or, like Sawyer, have roles within their companies where they are responsible for leading and managing their company’s compliance programs. “It’s a very specific niche,” Sawyer said. “We are inland marine compliance professionals.” He adds, “We are not a forum for solicitation, but rather a vital compliance information exchange hub. People started to hear about our meetings, and our email list started to grow.”

Sawyer transitioned to Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s Marine Transportation Organization in July 2019 after retiring as a commander in the United States Coast Guard, where he served for more than 20 years supporting the Coast Guard’s strategic missions of marine safety, security and environmental protection. Sawyer was instrumental in numerous incident responses, such as Super Storm Sandy, Hurricanes Maria and Irma and the Deepwater Horizon and APEX 3508 oil spills. At Marathon, Sawyer ensures the operational readiness of the marine fleet and proficiency of its crews. He serves on the National Towing Safety Advisory Committee and is Marathon’s representative to the American Petroleum Institute’s Marine Subcommittee.

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The “live” meetings were starting to get going when COVID-19 hit, and the group transitioned to virtual meetings. “Many of our members feel this has filled an important gap” by offering compliance professionals networking, sharing of ideas and problem-solving, regardless of the towing company’s size, affiliation or industry niche,” Sawyer said. “We are still in our infancy, yet anticipate more interest and growth.”

Brian Khey, director of compliance at Marquette Transportation Company, is serving as president for a three-year term. “There are never too many voices for safety in the inland marine space,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s what we’re all about. There is quite a bit of interest in what we do, and it’s growing.”

For more information, visit the Marine Compliance Alliance website at