AWO White Paper Makes Case for Removing “Harassment” from Reporting Requirements.
As AWO continues to advocate for removal of the term “harassment” from recent legislation and Coast Guard policy, we have developed a short white paper
detailing the challenges inclusion of the undefined term has created. Congress’ clear intent in enacting the Safer Seas Act was to protect mariners from sexual assault and sexual harassment. However, a single reference to “harassment” in the preamble to the legislation has created requirements that complicate compliance with existing federal, state, and local laws that address workplace harassment and counterproductively limit employers’ ability to take immediate action when harassment does occur.
EPA Publishes Supplemental VIDA Rulemaking.
On October 18, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
(SNPRM) for vessel incidental discharge national standards of performance under the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), which is an update to the rule proposed
in 2020. In addition to soliciting comments, which are due December 18, EPA will be hosting two virtual public meetings on dates to be announced. This is expected to be the final round of public input before EPA publishes the final rule by September 23, 2024. Once EPA has finalized its rule, the U.S. Coast Guard can begin promulgating implementation and enforcement standards. If you have any questions or are interested in joining AWO’s Vessel Discharges Working Group, whose input informs AWO’s comments, please contact Leah Harnish
USCG Extends Policy on Qualified Assessors.
By regulation, assessments of competence for STCW endorsements must be signed by a Coast Guard-approved Qualified Assessor (QA). However, the Coast Guard has recognized that the number of approved QAs is limited and allowed STCW assessments to be performed by assessors that are not approved by the Coast Guard but that meet the requirements of NVIC 19-14 (Change 4)
. The Coast Guard has now updated that policy to accept assessments of competence that are signed by a person who is not a Coast Guard approved QA and are dated by December 31, 2028.
Missed the Latest AWO Mariner Workforce Forum? Watch the Recording!
The latest AWO Mariner Workforce Forum, Building Workforce Pipelines with Maritime Academies
, featured a team from Maine Maritime Academy who explained how vessel operators can engage with MMA to build strong career pathways for their students to thrive in tugboat, towboat, and barge industry careers. In addition to its tug and barge training program, which is respected by AWO members across the country, MMA has a range of credential-track programs and mariner professional development courses. If you missed the Forum, you can check out a recording available on the AWO resource library here
. Join us live for future Forums to gain access to Q&A with the featured speakers and other AWO members.
AWO Member Haugland Group Featured in New York Times for JFK Airport Work.
AWO Member Haugland Group’s recent work on the JFK Airport improvement project earned them coverage in a recent edition of the New York Times
. The project will involve the redesign of John F. Kennedy airport in New York, which includes building two new terminals and realigning the roads. Haugland Group tugs have been hard at work transporting materials via barge to and from the construction site. Construction is expected to be completed in 2026.
CA Governor Signs Bill to Continue Tax Exemption for Marine Fuel Sold to Common Carriers. California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill to extend the partial sales tax exemption for marine fuel purchases consumed outside Californian waters. The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association led the coalition effort to pass the legislation, with financial and lobbying support from AWO and several member companies. An economic impact study found that the tug and barge industry would lose $7.4 million per year if the exemption, which has been in place since 2003, were allowed to expire. The new law extends the exemption until January 1, 2029.
Fall Convention Recap
On October 10-11, AWO members gathered in Philadelphia, PA for the Fall Convention and Board of Directors Meeting. Attendees discussed and voted on association business, heard from industry leaders and experts on timely policy and economic issues, and enjoyed a variety of networking and social events. Thank you to everyone who joined us!
Read below for a full recap and stay tuned for video footage from the meeting, which will be available in the coming weeks.
Board of Directors Meeting Highlights. Fall Convention business kicked off October 10 with the Board of Directors meeting, which included a virtual participation option for Board members unable to make the trip.
In his opening remarks, Chairman Rick Iuliucci welcomed attendees to Philadelphia, his home city. He explained that Philadelphia and the tugboat, towboat and barge industry have both been instrumental in building the country and emphasized that the industry is built on “timeless values, but we always adapt.” Rick said that we live in a “consequential time,” citing the 2024 election and ongoing world events, and emphasized that it will take all members and industry working together creatively to meet these challenges. He explained that the Jones Act requires continued vigilance, as opportunistic opponents will emerge after natural disasters. “We can’t afford to be complacent about it,” he stressed, highlighting the opportunities ahead with offshore wind and underscoring the bipartisan support for the law on Capitol Hill and in the White House. He went on to reiterate AWO members’ dedication to continuous improvement in safety, pointing to the good news in the recent Coast Guard-AWO Safety Partnership’s Annual Report, which included the second-lowest fatality rate recorded by the partnership, reinforcing that “our industry takes safety seriously.” Rick also pointed to the ongoing work AWO is doing on sustainability and telling the industry’s positive sustainability story and noted the ongoing importance of mariner workforce issues.
The Chairman concluded by asking the Board members to continue to engage, ask questions, and make their voices heard, and said he looks forward to working with the Board of Directors to continue our industry’s great contributions to America’s “economy, security, and quality of life.”
AWO President & CEO Jennifer Carpenter thanked the Board of Directors for their leadership and service in her President’s Remarks, highlighting four key responsibilities of the Board: to provide strategic direction, ensure the necessary resources to achieve AWO’s mission, lead as the vanguard of industry advocacy and safety work, and serve as guardians of the association’s culture. “I have seen example after awesome example” of Board members doing all four things in 2023, she noted.
In terms of strategic direction, she pointed to the association’s work on harassment, sexual assault and sexual harassment, thanking the Board for helping AWO pivot to ensure its focus was consistent with member needs for advocacy and compliance assistance.
On resources, she thanked the Board for providing the resources to enable a steady leveling up of AWO’s capacity for effective federal and state advocacy and emphasized AWO’s dedication to being good stewards of member resources.
On advocacy and safety leadership, the Board has stepped up, Jennifer said, hosting 14 tugboat and towboat tours and helping AWO change minds and solidify support for industry and the Jones Act; giving testimony on state Jones Act resolutions; and talking to the media about low water and our industry’s importance.
Finally, with respect to association culture, she thanked the Board for embodying AWO’s commitment to listening to members, fostering open communication and diversity of thought, and “playing the long game” and not backing down in the face of obstacles. Talking through the issues and taking differing member opinions into account in a collaborative and thoughtful way “keeps us united…as we confront the challenges of the future.”
Jennifer also gave an update on implementation of AWO’s Strategic Plan, which is approaching year three, and discussed preparations for the next planning cycle. AWO staff reported out on progress on AWO’s 2023 advocacy priorities, safety and sustainability work, state and regional advocacy, industry promotion and communications strategy, association finances, and workforce recruitment and retention. Board actions included approval of changes to the Safety Statistics Reporting Program and the 2024 AWO budget.
The Philadelphia Mummers helped AWO Director – Political Affairs Joe Manion close out the Board of Directors meeting with some rousing music.
Education Sessions Recap. On Wednesday October 11, Fall Convention attendees heard from guest speakers and panelists on timely topics.
Keynote Address on the Economy and Markets. G. Scott Clemons, Partner and Chief Investment Strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., gave an overview of the economy and what to expect in the near future. He noted that, according to all data, we should be in a recession. The yield curve, which typically inverts about 12 months before a recession, inverted all the way back in July 2022 – but somehow “the economy has not gotten the memo,” he explained. Several things explain this, Mr. Clemons said, including the strong supply of jobs and the demand for labor, which creates job security and buoys consumption -- a tailwind for the economy. He also said the tight housing supply, which is at a 15-year low in the U.S., has kept the housing market strong despite higher interest rates. Finally, he noted that while many are feeling the impacts of inflation on food and energy pricing, CPI and unemployment are relatively low, which has dulled these effects.
Mr. Clemons said there are three potential factors to watch that could tip us into a “reasonably short, reasonably mild,” recession in 2024. First, he pointed to the United Auto Workers Strike, which could encourage other unions to follow suit, potentially driving up wages. Second, he said that while the macroeconomic impact of a potential government shutdown is relatively limited, the U.S. government’s history of shutdowns has been eroding U.S. sovereign debt ratings. Finally, he explained that the resumption of student loan payments in October 2023 may lead to households cutting back spending and a “stiffer headwind” for consumption, which greatly impacts GDP.
“The probability of a recession in 2024 is rising,” Clemons concluded, “but the health of household balance sheets should act as a shock absorber, preventing a sharp downturn.”
Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Reporting and Investigations Process. Director Jeremy R. Gauthier of the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) discussed sexual assault and harassment reporting and investigations. He emphasized the importance of reporting and setting a positive company culture and said he views the Coast Guard and CGIS as partners that can help companies to eradicate bad behavior early, before it escalates. Director Gauthier encouraged robust reporting even if mariners or witnesses are unsure what is required: “If we don’t know about it, we can’t be responsive.”
Director Gauthier explained that most reports received by CGIS are not criminal and are sent to the Coast Guard’s prevention directorate for review and potential action. He also noted that while most reporting is delayed reporting, survivors are beginning to report more contemporaneously.
Protecting Your Company’s Reputation in a Crisis. Darrell Wilson with MTI Network USA presented on best practices for protecting a company’s reputation in responding to a crisis. The worst thing a company can do is to not respond at all, he emphasized, stressing that it is not the incident that harms a company, but how you respond. He said the absence of a response or an inconsistent response could be disastrous, explaining that “no voice or too many voices can lead to reputation loss,” or new regulations and policies enacted in reaction.
Mr. Wilson said that speed is key, as a company can be the first to engage the media and set the media agenda. He also emphasized that long before an incident happens, a company should have its response plan ironed out. He said the goal is always to keep reaction “local and small,” because growing media interest equals growing public interest.
Finally, Mr. Wilson touched on the impact of social media, which allows video or incident pictures to spread incredibly fast. He said that during a crisis, social and digital media become the most significant platform for news to spread, eyewitness experiences to be shared, and official statements to be made. A plan for how to approach the interaction between social and traditional media is critical, he noted.
Managing Risk and Insurance Costs. Baxter Southern with McGriff discussed risk management and the insurance renewal process.
Mr. Southern explained that risk management is identifying a risk and then minimizing it, which includes transferring your risk to another party, usually the insurance company. He went on to explain that a good contractual risk transfer includes strong contract language with the right requirements, verified insurance requirements in place (usually via a certificate of insurance) and enforcement of these provisions in the event of an incident that would trigger indemnification. Mr. Southern noted that a broker’s role is to ensure that a company has the correct coverage and added that the renewal process is important to establishing your company and your record with interested insurers.
Current insurance market conditions, noted Mr. Southern, are in the “longest hard market cycle in recent history.” While there are signs of improvement in certain areas, like hull and vessel pollution, areas like auto liability and property are still facing challenging conditions.
Remote Lock Operations. Lead Civil Engineer Michael Tarpey with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Inland Navigation Design Center presented on the Corps’ study and plans for remote lock operations.
Mr. Tarpey said that the goal of remote locks is to modernize waterways operations to prepare for future navigation and that USACE will ensure safety and reliability and address the cyber risks, pointing to the proven success of remote hydropower operations, which USACE has been utilizing for several decades. USACE plans detailed, site-specific assessments prior to implementation of any remote locks, Mr. Tarpey said, and will adapt to any issues that arise on a site-by-site basis.
Mr. Tarpey emphasized that “remote operation is not automated operation” and that there will be a human operating the lock from an off-site control room. He also stressed the USACE command’s focus on people, saying there would be no layoffs and that the Corps would be involving all employees, closely collaborating with unions, and keeping communications open as it considers how to proceed.
Roundtable with OCIMF and Energy Majors. The final panel of the day featured Austin Golding, President & CEO of Golding Barge Line; Josh Chavers, Vessel Vetting Coordinator with Phillips 66; David Vaughn, Marine Quality Insurance Manager at SeaRiver Maritime; and Ton Mol, Barge Adviser with OCIMF, discussing SIRE inspection and answering attendee questions.
Asked whether there is a shortage of inspectors, Mr. Vaughn said that while there had been past concerns about the location of inspectors, they have enough inspectors currently and “should have plenty” in the long term. Mr. Chavers said that if there are location-specific shortages, operators should share that with oil majors so they can get more inspectors in that area. Mr. Mol said that new inspectors are trained every year, and “if they are there, we train them and we get them accredited.”
On implementation of SIRE 2.0, which will incorporate more of a human element focus, Mr. Chavers said that the program is currently being phased in for ships and that it will be at least 4-5 years until it impacts the barge and towing industry. Mr. Golding emphasized that it is vessel owners’ responsibility to educate and incorporate their mariners into the inspection process, while Mr. Chavers assured attendees that OCIMF is working with AWO for subject matter expert feedback and review ahead of SIRE 2.0 implementation.
The panel also discussed the severity of findings versus the number of findings in an inspection. Mr. Mol said the number of observations is not the focus, and that if issues arise between operators and inspectors, operators should discuss them with the submitting OCIMF member.
With regard to consistency, the panel agreed that clear guidance is key. Mr. Chavers said that industry participation in the review process will help to clarify the guidance and help create consistency, while Mr. Mol stressed that changing guidance is a simple process, and that OCIMF can do so whenever it is needed.
Mr. Mol also urged AWO members to share incidents and data with one another, emphasizing that “the more we share helps us learn more.”
Rubbing Elbows and Enjoying the City of Brotherly Love. AWO members enjoyed networking and socializing throughout the Fall Convention. Energetic attendees took part in an early morning run or walk around the Philadelphia sights on Wednesday morning, and everyone was able to mingle during the two well-attended receptions and the social dinner held Wednesday night at La Viola Ovest.
THANK YOU, SPONSORS! AWO once again enthusiastically thanks our sponsors, whose generosity made the entire event such a success!
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