The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) recently announced new rules and regulations for the inspection and regulation of tow boats and tugboats. Called Subchapter M, the new rules were first previewed and then published in full. The USCG had been working on the new regulations since at least 2011, but the final rule was only issued this year. The new regulations are expected to affect thousands of companies and vessels and to cost the industry over $30 million. They are also expected to improve safety and reduce maritime injuries.
Coast Guard Inspections and Subchapter M
The role of the USCG is to protect citizens in the maritime world. This means conducting search and rescue operations and investigating accidents, but also trying to prevent these things from happening. One way in which this branch of the military does that is by instituting regulations for maritime vessels and inspecting them for compliance. Rules and inspections extend to both private, recreational vessels and commercial vessels.
Subchapter M is an addition to the USCG’s existing rulebook on inspections of vessels. The new regulations extend inspections and rules to most tug and towing vessels. Nearly all vessels in these categories—those over 26 feet in length—are expected to be affected by Subchapter M. This includes an estimated 1,100 companies and 5,500 vessels. Some of these vessels will have extra time to implement the new regulations.
The regulations set out in Subchapter M include new requirements for safety management on these vessels, specific requirements for the machinery and electrical systems used on them, using third-party groups and getting them approved, and the procedures that will be used to get a Certificate of Inspection from the USCG.
Towing Accidents Led to Subchapter M
The new rules came about after Congress reclassified tow and tugboats in 2004 as subject to inspection. This was spurred by a concern for the safety record of these vessels and followed two separate accidents that resulted in 19 deaths. The first occurred in September of 2001 when a tow vessel hit a bridge in South Padre, Texas. Cars and trucks plunged into the water as the bridge collapsed and five people died.
The other accident occurred in May of 2002 when another towing vessel struck a bridge. The boat hit a bridge on I-40 in Oklahoma that spanned the Arkansas River. The bridge in this incident also collapsed and 14 people died as their vehicles plunged into the river. These were tragic accidents that cost many people their lives and that might have been prevented if the vessels had been subject to Coast Guard regulations and safety inspections.
All aspects of the maritime industry are risky and dangerous, both for workers on vessels and bystanders. Subchapter M should make the industry as a whole safer and will likely prevent future deaths as companies and their workers put a greater emphasis on safety and passing the inspections.