BY MICHAEL HANSEN – Jones Act supporters invariably claim that U.S.-Flag ships are some of the best managed and operated in the world, and this impressive track record is one of the great virtues of the Act as it protects the domestic trades from all those dreadful old clunkers with crews working under slave-like conditions and operated by rapacious near-pirate owners under flags of convenience.
While this has always been a canard, a recent editorial by Captain Eric Christiansen, Chief, Commercial Vessel Compliance, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Headquarters, posted on the USCG Homeport website on May 18, 2012, and was highlighted today on the G Captain website, completely undermines the Jones Act supporters’ arguments.
Capt. Christensen issued a warning to the operators of U.S.-Flag ships that increasingly their ships are being cited and detained in foreign ports because of serious on board deficiencies from the international safety and the other maritime standards with which all ships in the world are required to comply.
The citations and detentions of U.S.-Flag ships in foreign ports are being carried out under the authority of the multilateral Port State Control (PSC) system that began with establishment of The Paris Memorandum of Understanding on State Port Control (Paris MoU), which covers the waters of the European coastal States and the North Atlantic basin from North America to Europe.
The PSC system was established as a reaction to the failure of the flag states – especially flags of convenience – that delegated their regulatory tasks to the classification societies to ensure compliance with their survey and certification. In 1994, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialist agency of the United Nations based in London and to which the U.S. is a participating maritime authority, approved an amendment to the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to authorize port state control of vessel operational requirements.
There are now nine regional PSC MOU Secretariats around the world including the Tokyo MoU Secretariat for the Memorandum Of Understanding On Port State Control In The Asia-Pacific Region.
Although the United States is not a member of any of the regional PSC MOU’s, with the new IMO authority the USCG implemented its own PCS program in 1994. Over the past decade, the USCG advises that they monitor around 10,000 foreign vessel arrives to U.S. ports and detain approximately 200 ships annually.
What Captain Christiansen revealed is that the Paris MoU, which maintains a list of countries with too many of their flag hips being subject to port state detentions, has had the U.S.-flag ship registry on its gray list of marginal performance since 2008. Capt. Christensen says that the USCG has analyzed the data from these overseas port detentions and confirms that they reflected truly serious problems illustrative of a registry decline.
This USCG assessment of the U.S. ship detentions overseas should debunk the oft cited myth of the Jones Act ship superiority, and hopefully allow us to address shipping issues without resorting to shibboleths.
Michael Hansen is president of the Hawaii Shippers Council
USCG Homeport Editorial
By Captain Erick Christensen