Will energy industry vessels get OK to expand disaster response capabilities?

Offshore supply vessel
A supply vessel passes next to the ultra-deepwater drillship Discoverer Inspiration in the Gulf of Mexico, about 240 nautical miles from Leesville, La. (The Associated Press)

The National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee last week approved a series of recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard designed to expand the disaster response capabilities of energy industry vessels.

The report was prompted in part by several Louisiana-based vessels attempting to carry cargo to or between ports in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017. While the vessels were deemed capable of safely completing these tasks, many were turned away due to strict or differing interpretations of Coast Guard regulations.

“U.S. companies have invested billions in building complex and versatile vessels and the training of American mariners to safely operate those vessels,” Offshore Marine Service Association President Aaron Smith said in a prepared statement. “This report creates an innovative framework for utilizing these investments to help Americans and our neighbors in their time of need.”

The final report makes numerous recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, the most important of which include:

The USCG apply the District 8 (the USCG District covering the Gulf of Mexico) Policy Letter 09-2001 nationwide. This policy letter provides a pathway for energy-industry vessels to participate in other industries by spelling out reasonable design, mission, and capability requirements on such vessels.
The USCG apply the District 8 Policy Letter 01-2017 nationwide. This policy letter allows energy-industry vessels to provide emergency berthing to emergency response workers, thereby opening up hotel rooms for disaster victims and allowing disaster personnel to stay closer to where they are working.
The USCG create and publish explicit instructions outlining how vessel operators may become a pre-approved disaster response resource.
The USCG and other concerned federal agencies create a formal communication protocol by which needs and requirements during disasters are explicitly stated both internally (between agencies) and externally (to the industry).
That USCG redefine the phrase “international voyage” to clarify that a U.S. vessel is not on an international voyage when it sails from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico.

The final report also proposes the creation of a Response, Restoration, and Recovery Vessel endorsement. This endorsement will be attached to a vessel’s Certificate of Inspection and would allow the vessel to supersede its operating restrictions if participating in the recovery of a federally declared disaster. The TRV endorsement would be issued outside times of disaster, after an assessment of the vessel’s capabilities, and a review of its anticipated disaster response activities.

While the recommendation of a TRV endorsement would allow vessels to supersede their operating restrictions, the report does not recommend that they be allowed to take priority over correctly certificated vessels. Instead, the report recommends that vessels with the correct certifications be utilized first. If such a vessel could not be readily found or mobilized the government would turn to a TRV-endorsed vessel.

Read the report.