The United States Coast Guard finalized its NVIC, published earlier this year in draft form, which endeavors to provide a uniform policy interpretation of when a casualty report is and is not required. Vessel owners, operators, and crew managers should review the policy guidance to ensure that their own reporting procedures are in line with USCG interpretations.
On July 21, 2015, USCG released Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular 01-15 (“NVIC 01-15″), titled Marine Casualty Reporting Procedures Guide with Associated Standard Interpretations. The purpose of NVIC 01-15 is to clarify terminology and phrases within the regulatory context, draw attention to helpful regulatory citations, and provide concise policy interpretations to assist vessel owners/operators with the casualty reporting process.
Confusion as to which incidents constitute marine casualties and need to be reported has persisted in the marine industry for years. Unfortunately, little official guidance has been published by Coast Guard Headquarters regarding its policy interpretation of the reporting requirements. This problem has historically been further exacerbated by differing interpretations by various Coast Guard field commands and attendant inconsistent enforcement actions.
To address this problem, on January 14, 2014, the Coast Guard issued a Notice of Availability and Request for Comments (“Notice”) for the draft NVIC, which has now been finalized and published as NVIC 01-15.
According to the Coast Guard, the majority of the comments received from multiple industry segments and organizations made it clear that more detail was needed for specific types of marine casualties that had led to uncertainty in the past as to what needed to be reported (or not). As a result, several new definitions, interpretations, and common casualty scenarios were added to NVIC 01-15.
NVIC 01-15 Analysis
The Coast Guard clearly elucidates its guiding principle when Rear Admiral Paul Thomas states, “[i]f there is any doubt whether an occurrence is a reportable marine casualty, the Coast Guard strongly encourages responsible industry parties to contact the nearest [Officer in Charge of Marine Inspection]…to determine an appropriate response”. NVIC 01-15 at 4.
Enclosure 1 of NVIC 01-15 provides clarification and interpretation on reporting scenarios for marine casualties. NVIC 01-15 notes that although some incidents do not rise to the level of marine casualties, they may still need to be reported to the Coast Guard as “hazardous conditions.” NVIC 01-15, Enclosure 1 at 6. This emphasizes the policy stated by Admiral Thomas that it would be prudent to report all questionable occurrences. The Coast Guard also states that compliance with the regulatory requirement to “immediately…notify” the Coast Guard means that the appropriate Command Center must be notified “as soon as reasonably practicable without delay.” Id. at 7. The Coast Guard clarifies that these requirements apply to all vessels operating within 12 nm of the U.S. coast, all tankers operating within 200 nm of the U.S. coast, and to all U.S. flag vessels no matter where they are operating.
The Coast Guard also issues industry specific interpretations for different types of commercial maritime operations. NVIC 01-15 addresses incidents involving tankers at length. Id. at 17-19. The Coast Guard also issues interpretations and policy statements related to reporting in the contexts of commercial diving, shipyards, and harbor workers. Id. 4-5.
NVIC 01-15 lists a variety of incident and occurrence scenarios and provides interpretations of regulations that have proven to be problematic for years. Specifically, the Coast Guard provides policy and interpretation for groundings, distinguishing between “intended groundings”, “unintended groundings”, and “bump and go groundings.” Id. at 9. NVIC 01-15 also provides for interpretations of key terms such as:
A loss of main propulsion, primary steering, or any associated component or control system that reduces the maneuverability of the vessel;
An occurrence materially and adversely affecting the vessel’s seaworthiness or fitness for service or route;
A loss of life; and
An injury that requires professional medical treatment (treatment beyond first aid) and, if the person is engaged or employed on board a vessel in commercial service, that renders the individual unit to perform his or her routine duties. Id., pages 10-13.
Conclusion and Recommendations
With the publication of NVIC 01-15, the Coast Guard has finally set the benchmark in establishing industry-wide marine casualty reporting standards, with the goal of establishing uniformity in such reporting, as well as more consistency in Coast Guard enforcement, in an area which has been problematic for years. In short, the Coast Guard has essentially provided the marine industry with its “playbook” for how it will respond to casualty-related reporting incidents or failures to report. Industry stakeholders should ensure that crew and shoreside personnel are familiar with the Coast Guard’s guidance, and heed the NVIC 01-15 recommendation to contact the Coast Guard whenever in doubt to avoid Coast Guard enforcement action for a failure to report a marine casualty in accordance with the regulations as interpreted by the Coast Guard as outlined in NVIC 01-15.