How Effective Is the Coast Guard in Carrying Out Its Commercial Vessel Safety Responsibilities?

CED-79-54: Published: May 25, 1979. Publicly Released: May 25, 1979.

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The Coast Guard's Commercial Vessel Safety (CVS) Program is responsible for assuring the safety of life, property, and the environment in and on waters subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Statistical data show that marine casualties nearly doubled during the period 1972 through 1976, demonstrating the need for CVS to carry out its responsibilities more effectively.

A staffing shortage existed at every inspection location visited, with inspectors working overtime supplemented by unqualified trainees and reservists. Many inspectors were not adequately trained or qualified. The Public Health Service is declaring mariners with serious physical and mental problems fit for duty after a union or company doctor has already declared them unfit. Harbor pilots operating under local, state, or a pilot association's jurisdiction are excluded from Coast Guard disciplinary action. Although the vessel boarding program has been expanded, the frequency of tankship safety examinations has been reduced. The quality of inspections, followup, and enforcement has been inconsistent. Response to foreign government requests for technical and training assistance has been minimal due to limited staff and the absence of direct funding. The function of the shipping commissioner, established in 1872, is obsolete.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to: comprehensively and systematically study the staffing needed to carry out CVS activities and international safety programs; expand in-house training and establish standards for personnel qualifications in the inspection area; and establish an inspection job specialty classification and/or extend the rotation cycle to retain the expert leadership needed in this mission. The possibility of transferring some aspects of the U.S. vessel inspection program to the American Bureau of Shipping should be reexamined. The Commandant should provide comprehensive direction for boardings and examinations, improve followup on tankship safety deficiencies, expedite the development of the Marine Safety Information System, adopt an aggressive penalty assessment policy, and emphasize the boarding and examination of uninspected U.S. commercial vessels. A demonstration of competency should be required for the issuance or renewal of marine industry personnel licenses. Physical fitness standards must be established. Jurisdiction over state pilots should be sought, and legislation should be proposed to abolish the shipping commissioner's functions.

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