Friday, May 16, 2008

U.S. Vessel Compliance with International Regulations

Let’s dispel some common misperceptions about U.S. vessel compliance with international regulations:

#1—Myth or fact? U.S. vessels on voyages between the East and West Coast of the U.S. can pass through the Panama Canal without having to comply with the international regulations, provided they comply with U.S. regulations.

MYTH—This was once true, but is now false. On January 1, 2000, the U.S. turned the Panama Canal’s ownership and control over to the Republic of Panama. From that date forward, U.S. vessels passing through the canal are under the jurisdiction of Panama and the canal authority. The canal is not an international straight, and passage through it conveys no right to “innocent”
passage. Vessels that wish to transit the canal must comply with international maritime regulations and any additional requirements imposed by Panama and/or the canal authority.

Exceptions—Vessels making a single voyage from one U.S. Coast to the other for a long-term change of operating area may request that the Coast Guard issue a single-voyage exemption from the international regulations if the vessel is otherwise in compliance with U.S. regulations. Vessels that plan to make the trip through the canal on a regular basis, however—even if it is only on an annual basis—must be in compliance with the international regulations and hold the appropriate certificates. This is because international regulations say that single-voyage exemptions should only be issued for “exceptional” circumstances, when you engage in a trip on a regular basis, it ceases to be exceptional. Vessels that normally operate on one coast or the other, but would like to use a ship repair facility on the other coast and must transit the Panama Canal to get there, will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

#2—Myth or fact? U.S. vessels on short voyages to adjacent nations such as Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean need not comply with international maritime regulations, provided they are in compliance with U.S. regulations for vessels of its size, type, route, and age.

MYTH—with some notable exceptions:

Exception 1: One significant exception to all international regulation applies to U.S. and Canadian vessels that trade exclusively on the Great Lakes. The U.S. andCanada have a long-standing agreement to accept each other’s national certificates of inspection for compliance with the regulations of the respective nation.

Exception 2: Small passenger vessels certificated under title 46 Code of Federal Regulations subchapter T (not subchapter K or H). Some years ago, the United States formally submitted a statement of equivalence to the International Maritime Organization. It stated that our small passenger vessel regulations for vessels of less than 100 gross tons (U.S.) carrying fewer than 150 passengers and/or fewer than 50 overnight passengers were equivalent in content to the international regulations for the Safety of Life at Sea for passenger ships of that small size and on limited or near-coastal voyages. There are some additional items that must becompleted beyond the requirements of subchapter T, including compliance withtheInternationalSafetyManagement (ISM) code, which came into force for passenger ships in 1998. Subchapter T-certificated vessels
on international voyages must implement an ISM code equivalent system that will be U.S. Coast Guard certified as part of a annual inspection of U.S. small passenger vessels. A guidebook for implementation of the ISM code equivalent system for small passenger vessels is available from local Coast Guard inspection offices. Subchapter T vessels certificated under this
equivalence are not issued the international passenger ship safety certificate, but a statement is placed on the Coast Guard certificate of inspection. Most of the vessels that fall into this category travel the short distance between the U.S. and the British Virgin Islands, or along the coastal waters of Mexico and Canada. There is a separate exemption on record for vessels making short round-trip voyages between Florida and the Bahamas.

#3—Myth or fact? If my U.S. tonnage and international tonnage are the same because my vessel was built prior to 1994, and my vessel is below the threshold for the mandatory application of SOLAS or other conventions, then I am exempt.

Mostly FACT—This is partly true. You are exempt from provisions of the conventions prior to the 1994 implementation of the international tonnage convention, but new annexes to the conventions that came into force after that date may apply to your vessel if its international
tonnage is over the threshold requiring mandatory compliance. Most notable is the International
Safety Management code and the International Ship and Port Facility Security code. Both of these certificates take preparation to obtain, since they require implementation of management practices and procedures as opposed to a simple installation of some new type of equipment.