News 14 Feb, 2011

USA - Notification to the USCG of Hazardous Conditions

Background  

US correspondents Keesal, Young & Logan have advised the Club of a change in the manner in which the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and Department of Justice may deal with vessels within US territorial waters which disregard the requirement to notify the USCG of known “hazardous conditions”.  

A recent decision by the US Court of Appeals reinstated a jury verdict which found that a crew’s failure to immediately report a hazardous condition to the USCG amounted to a criminal violation of the US Ports and Waterways Safety Act.  

US Regulatory Requirements  

Regulation 33 CFR 160.204 defines a hazardous condition as:  

“Any condition that may adversely affect the safety of any vessel, bridge, structure, or shore area or the environmental quality of any port, harbor, or navigable waterway of the United States. It may, but need not, involve collision, allision, fire, explosion, grounding, leaking, damage, injury or illness of a person aboard, or manning-shortage”.  

Regulation 33 CFR 160.215 also requires that:  

“Whenever there is a hazardous condition either aboard a vessel or caused by a vessel or its operation, the owner, agent, master, operator, or person in charge shall immediately notify the nearest Coast Guard Sector Office or Group Office.”  The initial report should be made either by VHF radio or by telephone.  

If the hazardous condition is also a reportable “marine casualty”, the initial report is to be followed up with a written report within five days as required under regulation 46 CFR 4.05-10 

Penalties  

A negligent failure to report a hazardous condition immediately may result in civil penalties being imposed.  

However, a wilful or knowing failure to make such a report may result in criminal charges being brought against the Master and the company. If found guilty, the penalties include a criminal fine of up to $250,000, a prison sentence of up to 6 years or a term of probation of up to 5 years.  

Recommendations  

Members should ensure that their Masters are aware that they must report any hazardous condition to the USCG immediately while in US territorial waters, and of the potentially severe consequences of failing to do so. Also of the need to provide the USCG with a written report within five days of the initial notification if the hazardous condition qualifies as a reportable marine casualty. Details of this requirement may also be incorporated into Safety Management Systems and Vessel Response Plans.  

In the event of any doubt as to whether or not a particular circumstance is a reportable hazardous condition, Masters should err on the side of caution and report the situation immediately to the USCG.  

Members requiring further guidance should contact the Loss Prevention Department.