October 31, 2008
Coast Guard crackdown on towing vessel crews and licenses
Coast Guard units along the Gulf Coast, Mississippi River and Western Rivers system will begin operations to ensure towing vessels are properly manned and crews have proper licensing as part of Operation Big Tow, which will take place from November through January.
The primary objective of Operation Big Tow is to ensure towing vessels are being operated by properly licensed individuals through boardings and examinations.
To minimize any impact to vessel movements or commerce by the Coast Guard by working with industry and towing vessel operators to conduct boardings and examinations at locks and dams, while vessels are tied up pier side, or through other methods that facilitate the flow of commerce while allowing examiners to check licenses and conduct safety checks.
The Coast Guard is committed to improving the safety of the towing industry through a proactive communications effort that promotes awareness of the Coast Guard's regulatory authorities and encourages owners and operators of towing vessels to correct any issues with license compliance and safety.
"While the majority of the towing industry operates safely and complies fully with licensing requirements, this comprehensive operation will allow us to identify any companies that may have problems," said Capt. Verne B. Gifford, chief of prevention Eighth Coast Guard District.
Towing vessel personnel licensing has been a cause of concern since a preliminary Coast Guard investigation found that the crewmember piloting the tug boat Mel Oliver, involved in July's 420,000 gallon heavy fuel spill into the Mississippi, held an apprentice mate's license. it emerged that another tug boat operated by the same owner had been involved in an incident that resulted in its sinking. The preliminary investigation into that incident revealed that the crewmember piloting the vessel also held an apprentice mate's license.