US Coast Guard accepts failure to enforce its own safety regulations

Concern has been expressed about a lax enforcement by the US Coast Guard (USCG) of salvage and marine fire-fighting regulations. It was revealed at congressional hearings by USCG Rear Admiral Paul Thomas that his service had not been enforcing the compliance of vessel response plans filed under federal Salvage and Marine Firefighting (SMFF) regulations.

Rear Admiral Thomas said that the USCG did not have the resources to enforce the law. Salvor Nicholas Nedeau, CEO of Rapid Ocean Response Corporation (ROR) said that “the shocking admission by the coast guard that it cannot, and is not, enforcing its own marine firefighting rules should be a warning to all shipowners, insurers and legal teams,” that this was a “disaster just waiting to happen” and that insurers should insist upon a dedicated network of fire-response vessels, rather than accept the current unsatisfactory situation. Charleston maritime lawyer Ryan Gilsenan said that “with the coast guard admitting it doesn’t enforce its own regulations, the financial and legal risk to vessel owners and P&I insurers may be much higher. I am concerned that if the current vessel response plans result in an unduly delayed response, then the shipowner could be subjected to punitive damages, fines and other penalties for failure to comply with regulations. A violation of regulations is a strict liability offense regardless of whether it was done so negligently, unknowingly or wilfully. If this is the case, the responsible party may no longer enjoy limited liability under OPA 90”.