07/9/09 Posted in [Transportation](http://www.ire.org/extraextra/category/transportation/) The Associated Press reviewed Coast Guard records and discovered [more and more tugboat captains in the United States have less than one year of piloting experience](http://www.sacbee.com/827/story/2010312.html). According to the article by Cain Burdeau, “A federal program to recruit more tugboat pilots may have backfired by allowing thousands of novice captains to take the helm and contributing to a 25 percent increase in the number of accidents on the nation’s rivers.” In 2008, 1,754 accidents involved tugboats, barges and related vessels.
The statistics are grossly manipulated. They took the year with the highest number of accidents after the reg. change and compared it to the year with the lowest before. If an average were used, the difference would be minimal. Also, the article contains a number of incorrect facts and misleading characterizations of the regulations and policies relating to licensing of master and mates of towing vessels:
• The article claims that mates of towing vessels can be licensed in as little as a year. Not true. There is a tiered level of licensing beginning with apprentice mate, then rising to mate and finally master of towing vessels. Apprentice mates can only operate under the direct supervision of a licensed master or mate.
• In order to be an apprentice mate (steersman), it takes 18 months of service, 12 of which must be on a towing vessel. Furthermore, applicants must pass an examination.
• To upgrade from apprentice mate (steersman) to mate (pilot) requires an additional 12 months of service. The applicant also must complete an approved training course or Towing Officer’s Assessment Record (TOAR). The TOAR documents the applicant’s ability to complete a practical demonstration of the skills required to operate a towing vessel before a Coast Guard approved designated examiner.
• To receive a license as master of towing vessels, the applicant must have a total of 48 months service, 36 months of which must be on a towing vessel.
• Another significant requirement of the current towing vessel licensing scheme is that in order to be authorized to operate a towing vessel on the western rivers (including the Mississippi and its tributaries), mariners must have experience on the rivers, and demonstrate their competence on the rivers. Previously mariners without any rivers experience could operate on the rivers if they held a license for inland, near coastal, or oceans service.
• Article cites MEL OLIVER incident in New Orleans as an example of lax licensing. The mariner operating the MEL OLIVER was licensed as an apprentice mate and was operating the vessel in violation of the law. Under the old licensing system, the apprentice mate could have been eligible for a master’s license a full six months earlier than the time of the accident. In addition, at the time of the collision, the apprentice mate of the MEL OLIVER had a pending application for a Mate license at the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center, the application was denied as the apprentice mate had not adequately demonstrated his competence before a qualified designated examiner.
• The current (it is 6 years old now) licensing regime was not the result of requests from industry, but is the result of several highly publicized casualties where flaws in the old licensing system were revealed. The revisions to the licensing program followed a report by the Secretary of Transportation, entitled Review of Marine Safety Issues Related to Uninspected Towing Vessels, which identified improvements in licensing, training, and qualifications of operators of uninspected towing vessels (OUTVs). The review was instituted after the AMTRAK casualty.
Thanks for the background.
Are accidents on the rise?