Nation’s Tugboat and Towboat Operators See Missed Opportunity in New Reality TV Series
A Statement by Thomas Allegretti, President & CEO
The American Waterways Operators
ARLINGTON, VA – The reality TV series that is currently airing on the History Channel, Great Lake Warriors, portrays companies involved in vessel operations on the nation’s Great Lakes, focusing on the oftentimes challenging and harsh weather conditions during the winter months. It is important to emphasize that Great Lake Warriors is a reality TV show, and the primary goal of reality TV is to provide sensational content. As such, it is difficult to ascertain whether certain situations on the show were taken out of context or edited in a way to make them more dramatic. What is clearly lost in efforts to make more dramatic television, however, is the far less sensational, day-to-day vessel operation responsiblefor moving cargo throughout the waterway transportation system and the foundational culture of safety under which this country’s towboat, tugboat, and barge industry operates.
There is no doubt that marine navigation is inherently dangerous. Because of this, most tugboat and towboat operators take extreme precautions and follow strict safety guidelines outlined by government and industry to better protect vessel crews, cargo, and equipment, as well as the general public and the waters they navigate. The nation’s 5,000 towing vessels and 27,000 barges comprise the largest segment of the U.S.-flag domestic fleet. Each year, the barge and towing industry safely and efficiently moves more than 800 million tons of cargo critical to the U.S. economy, including coal, grain, petroleum products, chemicals, steel, aggregates and containers. Tugboats also provide key services including ship docking, tanker escort, and bunkering in our nation’s ports and harbors, assisting ship owners and contributing to the vital import and export of goods and cargo. The domestic fleet accomplishes all of this while also being the most fuel-efficient component of the nation’s transportation system.
The hallmark of this industry, though, is its commitment to safety. In 1994, the American Waterways Operators (AWO) became the first transportation trade association to adopt a code of safe practices and environmental stewardship for its member companies. Today, compliance with the Responsible Carrier Program (RCP) is a condition of AWO membership, and members undergo independent third-party audits every three years to demonstrate continued compliance. The RCP complements and builds upon existing government regulations, requiring safety standards that exceed those required by federal law or regulation. The program has been extensively cited by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation as critical to preserving vessel and environmental safety and AWO is committed to ensuring the integrity of this vital program.
Government must also play a role in vessel safety oversight. Since 2003, AWO has worked with both Congress and the Coast Guard to develop legislation that was signed into law, as well as forthcoming regulations which will ensure that the Coast Guard inspects all towing vessels currently in operation and that all towing vessels will have a Coast Guard accepted Safety Management System in place. These proactive steps undertaken with the strong support of industry will help further ensure the safety of the nation’s domestic water transportation fleet.
To facilitate Coast Guard oversight while the inspection regulations are finalized, the Coast Guard and industry also have been working together on the Towing Vessel Bridging Program, an effort to ensure that both the Coast Guard and the industry are informed and prepared to meet the new inspection requirements. Through this process, which began in 2009, Coast Guard examiners have been boarding towing vessels to ensure their compliance with existing regulations. To date, nearly 5,000 industry-initiated exams have been conducted, and this process will continue until final regulations are in place.
Further, AWO maintains two committees comprised of member company safety professionals that meet regularly throughout the year to review the latest safety practices and anticipate how to proactively address any potential safety concerns. The ability to share information and collaboratively discuss challenges helps members of the industry learn from each other and further reinforces the commitment to safety under which AWO members operate. All of this stands in stark contrast to the operations depicted on Great Lake Warriors. The dayto-day operations of the nation’s towboat, tugboat, and barge industry non-dramatically facilitate the movement of items we rely on – our food, our fuel, and many other vital products. The industry also provides thousands of jobs that support families from coast to coast and throughout the nation’s heartland. While it may not always make for exciting, dramatic TV, the industry is firmly committed to its role in supporting our national economy and enhancing our quality of life, all while operating safely and efficiently, and in cooperation with the government officials that oversee our industry. It isn’t glamorous, but it is necessary, and thehard work of the nation’s mariners and their foundational commitment to safety will continue to truly reflect our industry’s operations.