Thursday, April 28, 2005

Rhode Island Requires a "Master Mariner" on LNG Tankers

The Rhode Island General Assembly haspassed a bill sponsered by Sen. Leonidas Raptakis requiring an American licensed, LNG certified "master mariner" to be on board any LNG vessel that transits the Narragansett Bay. Additionally, this individual will be responsible for signing off prior to any transfers. Senator Raptakis stated that
Many of these LNG tankers are not U.S.-flagged vessels, crewed by foreign seamen who may not be familiar with our rules or our language. An LNG-certified American master mariner present on each trip through Rhode Island waters, and during the transfer of cargo, will ensure that the vessels, at the very least, meet all operational and regulatory requirements.
"Master Mariner" sounds impressive, but what it is is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed merchant ship captain. The LNG certification may be a bit more problematic as I don't believe there are currently any U.S. "flagged" LNG carriers. Thus, while it sounds good to require the oversight of an American "master mariner," such oversight will, at least initially, be excessive and unneeded. A quick look at the practical application of these new requirements can show why.

First, all ships transiting the Bay require an American pilot (I believe in RI it is the Northeast Pilots Association), familiar with the local waters, already. The addition of a "master mariner" is then essentially a safeguard against 1) the vessel's captain making a mistake, 2) and the U.S. certified pilot making a mistake. In essence, for the transit portion, Rhode Island is now going to require two pilots for LNG tankers only. Now, I'm sure this makes everyone feel safer, but I believe it to be going overboard.

The second role that the "master mariner" would play would be to "sign-off" on the transfer of LNG. As I mentioned, as there are currently no U.S. flagged LNG carriers, I doubt there are currently and U.S. "certified LNG" master mariners (ship captains). This may not be so, but then again, how many of these live in Rhode Island? Still, putting that all aside, I'm sure that such a certification can be obtained. But now we come to a hole in the logic that troubles me. Why should we assume that an experienced, albeit foreign, merchant captain of an LNG tanker is somehow less qualified to offload his cargo than a newly certified, albeit American, "LNG certified master mariner"? Certification cannot replace experience, at least in the short term. This is not to say that a properly trained professional would be incapable. Again, it all just seems excessive.

Finally, perhaps the best and most cost-effective method would be to require Rhode Island pilots to be both "master mariners" and LNG certified. However, what the bill calls for is for these individuals "to be certified to be a tankermen person in charge (PIC) as defined in the code of federal regulations Title 46 Chapter 1 Part 13." A reading of the aforementioned revealed no explicit mention of being "LNG certified", only being certified in the transfer of "liquid gas." Now, I believe LNG falls under this, but to imply, as I believe this bill does, that there is some special certification for LNG is slightly misleading. Nonetheless, I guess that doesn't long as these rules make us all fell better.

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