Hunter Statement from Hearing on Maritime Transportation Regulatory Issues
Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA)
May 3, 2017
Good morning, today we will hear testimony on and discuss maritime transportation regulatory issues.
The Oil Pollution Act (OPA) was enacted in 1990 after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. OPA, in conjunction with the Clean Water Act, requires an owner or operator of a tank vessel, or non-tank vessel over 400 gross tons to prepare a vessel response plan for spills of oil or hazardous substances. While many areas of the country comply with the national planning criteria for oil spill response, there are still areas with low population and vessel traffic that cannot, and instead use alternative planning criteria. Some view the alternative planning criteria as temporary, as a means to get to the national planning criteria. However, for areas using the alternative planning criteria, it may be the most they can do.
Another issue that has arisen is whether or not alternative planning criteria should apply to the whole Captain of the Port zone or if smaller areas of the zone can be portioned off and covered by a vessel response plan. Some argue the purpose of the vessel response plan is to cover where the vessel travels, to ensure appropriate response measures are available. We will discuss these issues with the Coast Guard.
OPA also requires tank vessel owners to include in their vessel response plans adequate salvage and firefighting response measures to ensure it has access to resources to respond to a worst case discharge, including fire and explosion. There are concerns that while vessel response plans may list response vessels, those vessels may not be available when needed. We look forward to the Coast Guard discussing how its verification process is proving or disproving the availability of response vessels.
The International Maritime Organization’s International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping is designed to ensure global standards are in place for seafarers to be properly trained and certified. The Coast Guard implements this Convention and will discuss today any issues with regard to its implementation.
The Coast Guard also conducts commercial fishing vessel exams. The 2010 and 2012 Coast Guard Authorization Acts required mandatory dockside safety examinations for certain fishing vessels starting in October 2015. The 2012 Act also extended the biennial safety examination requirement to once every five years. The Coast Guard published a rulemaking to implement the requirements of the 2010 and 2012 authorizations. The Coast Guard will provide the Committee with an update on its progress.
The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2004 directed the Coast Guard to publish a rulemaking on the inspection of towing vessels. The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 also directed the Coast Guard to publish a rulemaking. The publication of the rule did not occur until June 20, 2016, 12 years after the first request. We will discuss where the Coast Guard is with implementing the inspection program and how industry is responding to it.
Maritime liens can be placed on a vessel or other maritime property when the owner of the vessel or property does not fulfill certain contractual obligations. In 2001, a federal court ruled fishing permits could be included in a maritime lien. The Committee is interested in what effect this ruling has had on the fishing industry and on how the use of the permits has been impacted, if at all.
The Federal Maritime Commission carries out the regulatory process established by the Shipping Act of 1984. The Commission reviews carrier agreements to ensure competition among carriers and to administer a limited antitrust exemption for ocean carriers when needed. U.S. industry has raised concerns regarding the Commission misapplying the limited antitrust exemption in recent reviews of filed agreements, to the detriment of third-party port maritime service providers. I commend the Commission for deciding not to approve an agreement for companies that are in the process of merging, to not extend prematurely antitrust immunity. The Committee is interested in hearing testimony on this issue to discuss the usage of the limited antitrust provisions.
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