MTD, ITF Back Coast Guard Report on Deepwater Horizon

June 2011

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The Maritime Trades Department, AFLCIO recently applauded a U.S. Coast Guard report on the Deepwater Horizon tragedy that cites flag-of-convenience(FOC)or runaway-flag shipping as a detriment to safety. 

Around the same time in mid-May, the International Transport Workers’Federation (ITF) also backed the Coast Guard report and expanded on some of the problems related to FOCs.

The SIU is affiliated both with the MTD and the ITF.

In a letter addressed to U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, MTD President Michael Sacco (who also serves as president of the SIU) said that the Coast Guard report (released in April) “casts a very critical eye specifically at the lax safety and emergency response culture aboard the Deepwater Horizon. It does not stop there. The Coast Guard notes many of these problems are found within the flag-of convenience shipping industry.

“The report questions the safety of vessels documented in open registry countries and specifically criticizes the Republic of the Marshall Islands (whose flag flew over the Deepwater Horizon),” the MTD letter continued. “It stated the country ‘effectively abdicated its vessel inspection responsibilities.’ It showed concern for a flag state to rely on classification societies to do its inspections, and said ‘these failings also raise questions with regard to the level of safety provided by the open registries.’”

Sacco also commended the Coast Guard for taking a critical look at itself and for recommending possible steps the agency may take to boost safety and responsiveness.

Identical copies of the letter were addressed to Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Ranking Member Rick Larsen; Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee Chair Mark Begich and Ranking Member Olympia Snowe; and Senate Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Subcommittee Chair Frank Lautenberg and Ranking Member John Thune.

The MTD is composed of 23 national and international unions representing five million workers.

The ITF, consisting of hundreds of affiliates and several million workers from across the globe, stated that the Coast Guard report “reinforces the International Transport Workers’ Federation’s long-held position that so-called flag-of-convenience or runaway-flag vessels often facilitate and even encourage unsafe business practices. The ITF recognizes that there are conscientious FOC operators and many have well trained crews (regardless of their nationality), but many FOC operators have no regard for the mariners, their competency and other victims who suffer as a result of the runaway-flag system. Putting swift profits ahead of safety, runaway-flag entities also risk catastrophic environmental damage like that which occurred last year when the rig exploded.”

ITF Seafarers’ Section Chair David Heindel (who also serves as secretary-treasurer of the SIU) added, “The ITF applauds the Coast Guard’s focus on what happens when a flag state fails to oversee that its vessels comply with ISM and other international minimum standards. When rules and regulations are or become lax, conditions can deteriorate into confusion and chaos. This was seen aboard the Deepwater Horizon when it was off the Gulf Coast of the United States last year. It was not registered in the United States, which has a rich maritime history, but instead with the Marshall Islands, which lacks a strong regulatory regime.”

He concluded, “In addition, international maritime organizations such as the ITF see such dangerous examples daily off the coast of Somalia, the Gulf of Oman where 40 percent of the world’s oil supply originates and in the Indian Ocean, as pirates count on such poor conditions to raid and capture under-crewed, under-prepared vessels and crews and poorly maintained vessels sailing under runaway flags. Piracy obviously pre-dates runaway-flag shipping, but the very same FOC system that arguably led to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy also is hampering international efforts to fight back against the modern version of at-sea terrorism. Without runaway flags, the vital task of ending piracy would be immeasurably easier as traditional maritime States would seek to protect their nations’ respective assets.”

The full title of the Coast Guard report is: Report of Investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Explosion, Fire, Sinking and Loss of Eleven Crew Members Aboard the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico April 20-22, 2010 (Volume 1), MISLE Activity Number: 3721503.


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