Offshore Vessel Odds & Ends

This one is for boat owners.  The rest of you can go on about your business.

Have they gone?  Ok, here are a few items that maritime companies need to stay on top of:

New training for OSVs and MODU personnel coming from Coast Guard  – The White House has finished its review and the Coast Guard is close to releasing a proposal that would ramp up training requirements for workers on MODUS and OSV’s for “responding to emergencies such as fire, personal injury, and abandon ship situations in hazardous environments.”

The Coast Guard hasn’t really explained what specific training is in this proposal  but it is significant that the background says it would apply to all personnel working on MODUS and OSVs.  Generally, USCG training requirements just apply to crewmembers; Think about how many people work on offshore vessels who are not a part of the crew, like the seismic crew on a survey boat or the drilling team on a MODU.  So this could be a dramatic change for the offshore world.

Add in last month’s proposal to require foreign vessels on the OCS to follow the same incident reporting requirements as U.S. vessels, plus last year’s proposal to require SEMS on vessels and it is clear the Coast Guard is following up on the recommendations that came out of its Deepwater Horizon investigation.

New STCW changes are here – They have been coming for some time, but the international STCW revisions are now in place.  The Coast Guard finalized the changes and published them in late December and last week it published nine Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circulars (NVICs) that detail how the changes will be implemented.   Much of it is highly technical, but the one dealing with basic training for seafarers is worth noting.     Under the new STCW rules, all seafarers need to renew their basic training every five years.  That means jumping in a pool, then swimming in a life preserver or immersion suit and going into a smoke room in firefighter gear.

No one can argue that these aren’t important skills on vessels, so what’s the problem? Well, one way industry has dealt with personnel shortages is by incentivizing older workers to stay on the job instead of retiring, in many cases working into their 70s.  We will be asking the group of workers with the highest medical risk to perform high stress tests.  Stay tuned.

Jones Act seaman liability – Vessel companies need to pay close attention to a recent Federal Appeals Court ruling concerning punitive damages in Jones Act court cases.    Under the Jones Act, when a mariner is injured, he is entitled to “maintenance and cure,”  living expenses until he is “cured,” which may last the rest of his life.   That can be a very expensive settlement, but in the past, boat companies were not on the hook for punitive penalties on top of that.

However, a recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that the victims in a drilling rig accident on a Louisiana waterway may seek “punitive” damages in their Jones Act lawsuit against the company.  The case is named Haleigh J. McBride, et al v. Estis Well Service, is in line with some previous rulings, meaning that, unless the Supreme Court takes up the case, punitive damages are likely to become more common in Jones Act cases.  Read the ruling here.  Thanks to Chip Duncan of Duncan & Sevin, L.L.C. for raising this to my attention.

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