Coast Guard:

Magnitude of Alcohol Problems and Related Maritime Accidents Unknown

RCED-90-150: Published: May 24, 1990. Publicly Released: Jun 11, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the Coast Guard's efforts to reduce alcohol problems on commercial vessels, focusing on its: (1) procedures to screen merchant mariner applicants for alcohol abuse; and (2) readiness to enforce intoxication regulations. GAO also identified the number of: (1) applicants the Coast Guard rejected because of alcohol abuse; and (2) maritime accidents attributable to alcohol.

GAO found that: (1) the Coast Guard's documentation and licensing process, which allowed it to screen merchant mariner applicants, was limited due to gaps in its legislative authority and insufficient procedures for collecting and verifying relevant information during the screening process; (2) the Coast Guard's readiness to enforce intoxication regulations on vessels was limited because officers did not have the appropriate training or equipment to administer timely intoxication tests; (3) it could not determine the number of applications rejected because of alcohol abuse, the number of alcohol-related accidents, or other data on alcohol problems, due to the Coast Guard's lack of a reporting system; (4) the Coast Guard did not require applicants or physicians to report medical problems resulting from alcohol use; and (5) over a recent 3-year period, 4,247 licensed merchant mariners were reported for drunk-driving violations. GAO also noted similarities and differences among the Coast Guard's and two other Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies' intoxication regulations.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Under sections 4101 and 4103, Oil Spill Pollution Act of 1990, Congress authorized the Coast Guard to suspend or revoke the merchant mariners' document from mariners who have been convicted of driving while intoxicated or under the influence within the 3-year period proceeding suspension. Congress also authorized the Coast Guard to gain access to the National Driver Register.

    Matter: To assist the Coast Guard in carrying out its marine safety responsibilities, as regards its efforts to reduce alcohol-related accidents in the maritime industry, Congress should consider granting the Coast Guard authority to withhold or revoke the initial merchant mariner document, the official paper needed to work on U.S. commercial vessels, from alcohol abusers and to obtain access to the National Driver Register to verify applicants' statements on alcohol-related convictions. H.R. 1465 contains provisions to attain those improvements in the Coast Guard.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard developed changes to its existing data collection procedures to collect the information described.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, to improve management information and program effectiveness by collecting data on applications denied because of alcohol use, accidents in which alcohol was a contributing factor, violations of intoxication regulations, and results from reasonable-cause testing.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard improved its enforcement of intoxication regulations by providing its investigators with alcohol abuse training and testing equipment.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, to provide investigators with the necessary training and testing equipment so that they are prepared to enforce the intoxication regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard has published physical examination guidelines which include alcoholism and chronic alcohol abuse as disqualifying conditions. It intends to use either or both FBI or National Driver Register information to verify applicants' records.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard, to improve procedures for identifying alcohol abusers in processing merchant mariner applications by requiring verification of all applications with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and by asking for information on alcohol use on medical reports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT proposed regulations concerning use and abuse of alcohol in the various transportation modes in December 1992. After deliberation of comments received from the public, the final regulations were issued in February 1994. The regulations make the testing for alcohol abuse more uniform among the various transportation modes.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation, in conjunction with the Department of Transportation's rulemaking process for the prevention of alcohol abuse, should determine whether existing differences in procedures among the transportation modes are reasonable or whether more effective results could be achieved by making the regulations more uniform.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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