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TSAC: it’s time for mariners to take the wheel.

This just in: the Coast Guard has published a notice in the Federal Register announcing several upcoming (9/30/09) vacancies on the Towing Safety Advisory Committee. Two of those vacancies are for representatives of the “Barge and Towing Industry”, which we at the MTVA contend should rightfully go only to actively-working captains of tug or towboats in accordance withour interpretation of the TSAC Charter. The other is for one representative of the “Offshore Mineral & Oil Supply Vessel Industry.” We feel that member should be an actively-working captain aboard an anchor-handling tug or an AHTS vessel.

As it exists today, we regard TSAC as little more than a puppet of AWO that “advises” the Coast Guard in ways that are not always necessarily conducive to improving safety in any meaningful way. The Coast Guard, for its part, seldom disregards that advice. In fact, some very questionable regulatory changes have been made over the years that the Coast Guard justified largely on the grounds that they were recommended by TSAC, despite the fact that the lone mariner on TSAC advised against it. Most recently, the 30-Day Wonder loophole was expanded in this fashion. Check out this previous post for further information.

There are presently just two working mariners on TSAC. Capt. Joseph Dady, who has served a full 3-year term as a representative of “organized labor” and Capt. Edie Queen, who took her place on the committee this past September. Only in the last 6 months or so, possibly because of MTVA’s strong criticism of the CG’s management of TSAC as well as our appealing to members of Congress, has the CG started reimbursing these individual mariners for their travel expenses so that it is financially feasible for them to participate on TSAC. Other advisory committees, such as the Merchant Marine Personnel Advisory Committee (MERPAC), have been paying for travel expenses all along. It’s fair to speculate whether TSAC has been operated in this fashion deliberately so as to marginalize mariners and keep them out of the regulatory process if possible. If this is the case, and we believe it is, then it has been wildly successful.

In any event, we urge all interested mariners who have extensive experience in the towing industry, regardless of whether you’re an MTVA member or not, to apply for these openings. You can download an application form here, and the Coast Guard must receive it on or before February 16, 2009. Please contact the MTVA via e-mail for further information.

 Unless we all get much more involved in the process very little change for the better is ever likely to occur. A towing Safety Advisory Committee that lacks a strong slate of experienced and actively-working towing vessel mariners to help guide and direct it is like a ship without a rudder: useless at best, dangerous at worst.

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