Two years ago, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, causing the deaths of some 3,000 people and damage to property, the electrical grid and other infrastructure estimated at US$91Bn
In the aftermath, several Louisiana-based OSVs carrying relief cargo to the island or in between ports in Puerto Rico were turned away because of strict or differing interpretations of US Coast Guard regulations.
Now the National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee (NOSAC), a US federally sanctioned committee of industry experts, has approved recommendations to increase the ability of US-flag OSVs to assist in disaster response efforts in order to rectify the regulatory roadblock.
NOSAC’s restoration and recovery activities subcommittee made the recommendations in a report entitled Use of Offshore Supply Vessels (OSVs) and other vessels in restoration and recovery efforts.
The report finalises recommendations approved by NOSAC in March. Those recommendations were submitted on an interim basis but were not implemented prior to the 2019 hurricane season as had been hoped. Both reports are the result of efforts by the Offshore Marine Services Association (OMSA) made in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“US companies have invested billions in building complex and versatile vessels and trained American mariners to safely operate those vessels,” said OMSA president Aaron Smith. “This report creates an innovative framework for utilising these investments to help Americans and our neighbours in their time of need,” Mr Smith added.
The report recommends policies outlined by the USCG District 8, which covers the Gulf of Mexico, applied nationwide. One policy letter issued by USCG District 8 provides a pathway for OSVs to participate in other industries by spelling out reasonable design, mission and capability requirements on such vessels. A second policy letter allows energy-industry vessels to provide temporary berthing to emergency response workers, ensuring hotel rooms are available for disaster victims.
Some of the other important recommendations in the report are:
While the subcommittee’s recommendation of a TRV endorsement would allow vessels to supercede their operating restrictions, the report does not recommend that they be allowed to take priority over correctly certificated vessels. Instead, the report recommends that vessels with the correct certifications be used first. If such a vessel could not be readily found or mobilised the government would turn to a TRV-endorsed vessel. The report does note that this tier-based response will require more co-ordination between the USCG, the US Maritime Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, something the report found was severely lacking during Hurricane Maria.