Live Blogging Transportation Subcommittee – Hearings On Foreign Flagged MODUs

representative-elijah-cummings-transportation-sub-committee

We will be live blogging the hearing officially titled “Foreign Vessel Operations in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone” which can be watched live via THIS LINK.

Testimony will be provided by:

Panel 1

RADML Kevin Cook,Director of Prevention Policy USCG

Mr. David Matsuda, Acting MARAD Administrator

Panel 2

Mr. Warren Weaver

Mr. Ken Wells

The hearings began with the reading of written testemonies by RADM Cook and Mr. Matsuda. Mr. Matsuda is actiting MARAD administrator as a permenant replacement for Sean Connaughton has yet to be chosen by President Obama…. leaving a long term gap in the country’s most important agency for promoting the US Flag.

The first set of questions by Congressman Elijah E. Cummings focused directly on the question of why the Deepwater Horizon’s OIM did not have a Master Unlimited license as required by US law.

46CFR15.520, the US regulations pertaining to Mobile Offshore Drilling Units, states:

A self-propelled MODU other than a drillship must be under the command of an individual who holds a license as master endorsed as OIM or an MMC with master and OIM officer endorsements.

RADM Cook was unable to answer the questions pertaining to licensing of mariners aboard Deepwater MODU’s, frequently stumbling with his answers and even mentioning Jack-up’s which are rigs which only operate in very shallow water. The questioning ended in frustration with Rep. Cummings thinking out loud that him and the admiral where speaking different languages. gCaptain’s take: the questions asked by Cummings where right on point but RADM’s answers proved that the USCG continues to struggle understanding exactly what a DP MODU does. RADM Cook did admit that the USCG has yet to officially acknowledge Dynamic Positioning or regulate/inspect DP systems and operators!

The next line of questions focused on the flagging of MODUs with Representative Taylor clearly stating that all MODUs should be us built, manned, taxed and flagged.

Questions were then asked by multiple members about the appropriate use of non-US flagged vessels presently cleaning up the oil spill.

One interesting line of questioning went like this (quotes are paraphrased).

Representative Taylor – “If a King’s Point cadet failed their license exam but got a note from the Marshall Islands saying they were properly licensed would the USCG accept that note.”

RADM Cook – “If the Marshall Islands gives someone their approval for work aboard a MI vessel, the CG accepts that.”

Representative Taylor – “Given the amount of corruption around the world, what guarantee do you have that the Marshall Islands actually inspected these vessels”

RADM Cook – “We do send USCG inspectors out to assure compliance.”

Rep Mica asks if the majority of MODU’s are US flagged and what percentage of deepwater vessels are US vs foriegn flag. Admiral cook responded that 30 of the 57 vessels on MMS leases, including production rigs, are foreign flagged.

Mica asked MARAD what the effect of requiring all offshore rigs to be US flagged would have on the industry. Matsuda said that he could only state that it would certainly be a boon to US Shipbuilding (gCaptain notes that US built vessels is a provision of the Jones Act not of flagging vessels US but this distinction was not made in the hearing).

Rep Oberstar, Charmen of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee, enters the hearing and asks to make a statement. He states that the USCg is the best in the world at setting standards and vessel inspections but makes clear that the USCG does not have an understanding of deepwater drilling. He further states that MMS does have this understanding but failed to regulate or even prepare for subsea oil spills properly.

Oberstar brings up the USCG appropriation bill stating that this incident and the upcoming bill provides the congress with the opportunity to assure the USCG has the authority and funding to gain the expertise to regulate deepwater operations properly. He also states that the USCG, with this added funding, needs to plan to obtain the expertise to understand deepwater operations.

Oberstar gives a very strong statement on why vessels would be flagged in countries like the Marshall Islands stating that some flag states set very low standards. He says that these low standards along with lower costs to operate, lower levels of enforcement and lower pay aboard these vessels are the reasons companies like BP register their vessels foreign.

Oberstar: “We lost a lot of life defending the Marshall Islands in Word War II but taht does not make then a maritime nation!

Oberstar states firmly that raising the standard (of OIM licensure) is critical. He mistakenly commented that “drilling masters” (the correct term is Offshore Instillation Manager) had no license or stamp of approval from the USCG. This is in fact false as all OIM’s are licensed and the OIM of the Deepwater Horizon, Jimmy Harrell, did in fact hold a USCG OIM license. But gCaptain has pointed out in the past that the requirements and testing to obtain these licenses are both antiquated (their are no DP or deepwater questions in the test bank!) and easy for anyone working offshore to obtain. Oberstar did not mention the similar problem with MODU Chief Engineer licenses.

When asked about the number of USCG personnel that have the expertise to inspect MODU’s. RADM Cook states that 69 USCG persons have MODU qualifications. No mention was made on how many of these persons are qualified for deepwater and dynamic positioning vs. shallow and mid water MODU’s.

Rep Lobiondo asked if they have the proper amount of people to do these inspections now. RADM cook responded that recently the USCG has been “improvising” to meet the demand of MODU inspections.

Matsuda brings up that they have gotten a lot of requests from US vessels to help but these requests have been denied by BP and he needs the help of the National Incident Commander to get these vessels working. RADM Cook states that all request from qualified vessels have been approved by the NIC.

Mr. Lobiondo responds, in an animated fashion, with his frustration on why BP is not using all available assets. He then asks that the chairmen to “convey to the US Customs and Border Patrol, how outrageous it is that they are not here, it is an insult to this committee and an insult to you as these witnesses are unfairly being putting put on the rack with questions that do not pertain to them.”

gCaptain called Mr. Lobiondo’s office to inform him of the workboat mariners in the gulf being laid off despite the fact they are eager to use their boats to help in the spill.

Representative Richardson demands the USCG starts tracking the number of skimmers and skimming vessels owned by the US Government and private industry located throughout the US so that these assets can easily be called and moved to locations of great need.

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Other commitments prevents gCaptain from live blogging the rest of this hearing but we are saving the video and hope to catch-up later today to update this thread.

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Notes on committee documents

SUMMARY OF SUBJECT MATTER

This document is well written and brings up many good points. Here are some important snippets:

Marshall Islands-flagged MODUs that that are equipped with dynamic positioning must conform to Schedule DPV given in Section 2.2.5, Reductions from Basic Manning.

This point is very important because the Deepwater Horizon was manned under Schedule A – Self Propelled MODUs not Schedule DPV – Dynamically Positioned Vessel. DPV requirements are much stricter, this suggests the committee does not think the Horizon was manned properly.