Marine inspections ensure ships comply with maritime safety and environmental laws. To address the long-standing challenge of finding enough experienced marine inspectors, the Coast Guard has a variety of initiatives in place.
The frequency and level of inspections depend on whether the structure is on the surface or underwater and on historical deterioration rates. Checks may require scrapers, wire brushes, or NDT tools.
Subchapter M Inspections
A relatively new law called Subchapter M has challenged many marine companies. It applies principles for inspecting and certifying many other types of vessels to tugboats and towboats. The Coast Guard is trying to make the process fair and consistent, but there have been some tumult in the first year of operation.
Subchapter M applies to all US-flag towing vessels that push, pull, or haul alongside oil and hazardous material tank barges certificated under subchapters D or O of this chapter. Operators must gain compliance and obtain a Certificate of Inspection (COI) by July 19, 2022. Operators can gain COI through Coast Guard inspection or a Towing Safety Management System option that uses a third party to verify compliance. The latter is a more cost-effective approach, but the choice is up to each company. Regardless of which route to compliance, companies must be ready for a flurry of activity as they seek COIs for their vessels.
Whether you want to get certified by the Coast Guard or use a third-party TSMS, marine inspection services can help ensure your fleet meets Subchapter M requirements. If you choose to become licensed through the Coast Guard, your fleet must undergo annual inspections. If you work with a third party, your crew must only undergo checks every five years.
In April, the popular MSC Cruises ship MSC Seaside failed a sanitation inspection by the CDC with an unusually low score. The vessel scored 67 out of 100, nearly twenty points below the CDC’s passing grade.
During the inspection, inspectors found various food preparation and storage violations. For example, the ship could not chlorinate its potable water properly and had multiple medical violations. The inspection also uncovered several hygiene issues, such as needing soap in five handwashing stations and a need for follow-up on public vomit and diarrhea episodes.
Inspecting ships for compliance with IMO regulations is one of the main ways authorities enforce maritime laws. Having the right inspectors onboard can help avoid detention or heavy fines.
Although the primary responsibility for ship standards lies with the flag state, port State control (PSC) provides a safety net to catch substandard ships. PSC inspections can be more effective if closely coordinated with other regional agreements such as the nine regional PSC Memoranda of Understanding (Tokyo MoU, Paris MoU, Latin America MoU, etc.).
The key to a successful PSC inspection is prepared using data for the specific port/PSC regime. The master and crew should be familiar with the requirements and know how to respond. This will give the inspectors a good impression of the vessel, reduce the time and costs for the owner/operator, and decrease any potential for unnecessarily delayed port stays. In addition, a well-prepared master and crew can prevent the need for more detailed inspections that can lead to costly delays and fines.
Coast Guard Inspections
The Coast Guard is the primary federal agency responsible for marine safety and conducts many inspections. However, the agency needs help maintaining a sufficient staff of marine inspectors. GAO reviewed Coast Guard policies and workforce assessments to assess these issues, analyzed staffing level data, and interviewed Coast Guard officials.
During the boarding, the inspector will check for the required equipment on your vessel, and if everything is up to standard, you’ll receive a decal that you can affix to your boat. The boarding officer may warn you or ask you to improve your vessel if they feel it’s necessary.
The Coast Guard’s Port State Control Program verifies that foreign-flagged vessels entering U.S. waters comply with international conventions and U.S. laws and regulations. This includes ensuring the ship is properly classified by an authorized classification society and undergoing regular surveys, inspections, and maintenance.