Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Support C-PORT

With the annual C-PORT meeting coming up at the end of this week, I thought it was appropriate to put in a plea for continued support.

C-PORT is our industry's watch dog and our voice in Washington. The best way to keep up with that big computer in Washington is to be involved with C-PORT. C-PORT is a small organization and has certainly had some problems over the years, but it also has had some successes as well (keeping us out of the radar endorsement requirement comes to mind).

More importantly, this is the only organization that specifically represents the interests of marine assistance companies.

Supporting C-PORT does three important things: first, it increases the chance that our industry is thought of as separate (in the eyes of government regulators) from other sectors, rather than being lumped in with tugs or uninspected passenger vessels. Secondly, the annual conventions are a neutral gathering place where competitors can meet and exchange ideas, air some grievances, and develop the professional standards that improve the industry as a whole. Finally, the existence of a strong well attended trade association is one of the hallmarks of professionals in business.

I hope to see everyone in Florida this weekend, and for those who can't make it, there are plenty of ways to support C-PORT from a distance. Phone calls, letter writting and research can all be done from your desk. If you know a local tower who isn't a member, please call them and urge them to join. This is a case when more is better.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Got Reef?

A 32' boat receives massive fine:
Maui News $550,000 fine levied for sunken tour boat

I'm still searching for details about this, including who was the "salvage specialist" that was mentioned, but cases like this might get the attention of insurance companies who are outraged when asked to pay 10-20% of insured value to keep a boat from sinking.

Pollution prevention and protection of ecological areas like reefs, shellfish beds, and protected marine environments is the future of marine salvage, just as it has become in the blue water, large ship salvage industry.

Next time you send a bill for keeping a boat from sinking or off the beach, and the insurance company says "but, you didn't do anything but tow the boat [or pump the boat]" send them this article and suggest you may have saved them a huge fine. I know we all don't have fragile reefs in our area, but which beaches or oceans do the insurance companies want to say are expendable?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Coast Guard volunteer boat runs aground

Google found this story : Press-Telegram - Coast Guard volunteer boat runs aground

LONG BEACH - A 51-foot Coast Guard volunteer boat ran aground Saturday while on patrol in Long Beach Harbor, a Coast Guard official said. // The Moonlight Express, a pleasure vessel, ran aground near Island Grissom about 10:25 a.m. while conducting a Coast Guard Auxiliary patrol, said Lt. Andrew Munoz of the Coast Guard.

At a quick scan of the story, I didn't think much of it....just another grounding. But something kept quietly nagging in the back of my mind...."volunteer" boat. What the heck is a Coast Guard volunteer boat? I read the story a second time, and of course a volunteer boat is some one's idea of keeping the words Coast Guard Auxiliary out of the headline.

Here is a question for you: instead of running aground (on a well marked oil island in the middle of Long Beach Harbor in broad daylight), had the Moonlight Express rescued a lost swimmer, do you think the headline would read that a Coast Guard Volunteer Boat had conducted the rescue? I think the headline would read "Coast Guard Auxiliary Rescues Swimmer".

At this point, I don't know who the source of the headline or who chose the word Volunteer, but I've got a call into the newpaper and I'm trying to find out.

Can anyone explain why the Long Beach Beach Fire Department is attempting to pull this boat off? And the final sentence:

If all else fails, the Coast Guard may have to bring in a crane barge, he said


Monday, January 21, 2008

Float Trailer

Look! Its a Boat! Its a Trailer!....its a...a...what the heck is that??


If I still owned my company, I would be looking into buying one of these. I'm not sure exactly how I would use it, but I know it would come in handy some day....

Monday, January 14, 2008

Two Ends of the Spectrum

Two items today show how far evolved some communities can be, and how far some communities have to go. First off we have this announcement from the pacific northwest: [see article in Whidbey News Times].

At Tuesday evening’s North Whidbey Fire and Rescue board of commissioners meeting, after several months of negotiations, a cooperative agreement for water rescue between the fire district and Marine Rescue Services was approved and signed..... Under the plan, [Marine Rescue Services] only charges to the fire district would be $30 per hour to compensate one of Aydelotte’s captains plus the cost of fuel for the boat.
John Aydelotte of Marine Rescue Services (Vessel Assist Whidbey Island) has truely broken some new ground here. He is going to get paid by a gov't agency to take up their slack. This is a sign of the evolution that years ago came to the ambulance industry, which I have argued we are similar to. Many communities around the country contract out ambulance service through a competitive bidding process. Officials of the North Whidbey Fire District recognized that paying Marine Rescue Services an hourly fee was a far better use of the tax payer's money, rather than bearing the cost of maintaining a 24/7 boat of their own.

Which brings us to the second item, which is a letter to the editor of The Log Newspaper. I blogged here a few days ago about this article. Now comes a reader's response, which reiterates the same tired arguments of free towing by a gov't agency (there is no free towing, just taxpayer funded towing and user funded towing).

So, one part of the west coast has embraced the commercial assistance industry so deeply that the community is willing to use taxpayer dollars to hire a private firm, while down south, the entrenched tax collectors of the Orange County Sheriff continue to tow every boat they can to justify their annual budgets.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Orange County Calif. Sheriff gets an ear full

How timely is this??: The Log.com News

NEWPORT BEACH — Representatives from Sea Tow and Vessel Assist membership towing companies came together in a Dec. 5 meeting to discuss their concerns with the Orange County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol that boaters might be getting “free tows” in cases that are not emergencies..

When you read this and contrast it to yesterday's post about a city charging for police response to vehicle accidents....well, its night and day.

Here is my suggestion; don't try and get the OC Sheriff to stop towing, just convince them to start charging for it....say, $200/hour? Hey, they are just rich boaters, right? I mean, this is recreational boating. Its not like the guy with a dead battery 2 miles offshore was commuting to work. If the Sheriff was to charge (and they can by law), I think they would see a drop off in the amount of calls they respond to.

Look, contrast this situation to offroad recreation. If a guy runs out of gas 20 miles out in the desert with his ATV, is the Sheriff gonna tow him home? Sure, they might give the guy a ride to the nearest gas station, but more than likely, they will call a tow truck for the guy. How is a boat any different?

Here is my other pet peeve. When the Sheriff does tow a disabled boat, do they conduct a safety boarding? Almost never. Spend an afternoon at the launch ramp and ask the boaters who get towed in. The issue here is that Orange County gets most of their marine safety money to buy boats and stuff from the state. And that money is earmarked for boater safety.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

KY City to charge for vehicle accident response

The first two paragraphs in this story in kypost.com sure got my attention...

The Erlanger City Council voted Tuesday to bill non-residents for the cost of crashes within the city limits. \\ The new municipal order will allow the city to bill insurance companies $154 for every Erlanger police car that responds to an accident and $7 for every 15 minutes an officer is at the scene.

I urge you to read the entire story, as I believe that this kind of progressive fiscal thinking should be strongly endorsed by those of us in the marine assistance industry. Indeed, one of the arguments I repeatedly made to the LA Lifeguards, who liked to remind me that boaters somehow deserved a free tow to the harbor because they were taxpayers, and I would remind them that there was no way to know if the boater being towed was a Los Angeles county taxpayer.

Additionally, Earlanger has come to the realization that insurance companies are the largest single beneficiaries of public agency response to traffic accidents. And, that these insurance companies are not paying into the local coffers. The city of Erlanger has found a way to get the insurance companies to ante up at least a portion of the costs. The new law applies only to non-residents of the city. I don't know if that is legal or constitutional, but I do think its smart.

Under the be careful what you wish for category, I am a little surprised that they only think their officers are worth $28/hr. Perhaps that is the actual average hourly wage for the local gendarmes, but I doubt that it will defray all the costs of a law enforcement officer, which must include health insurance, retirement benefits etc.

Anyway, can you imagine if your local harbor master of sheriff patrol adopted this strategy? Suddenly, the true value of our private service goes up, and the value of a towing membership goes way up.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Regulation!

Ah, another new year. The ball drops in Times Square, awesome fireworks displays in Sydney Harbor, and someplace in Washington, D.C., a computer holds a gazillion words of new regulations just waiting for someone to press print.

Are some of those pages for us? I wouldn't doubt it. It seems that every mistake or blunder by an individual quickly becomes a soapbox for politicians and regulators to ensure that "this will not happen again". Consider this list:

Cosco Busan, Empress of the North, Spirit of Nantucket, MSC Korea.

Who could have missed the Cosco Busan story? A container ship broadsides the Bay Bridge in in the fog, spilling thousands of gallons of bunker fuel. The ship was under the control of a licensed SF Bay Pilot (who is currently collecting unemployment checks and interviewing defense attorneys). Sen. Diane Fienstien wasted no time calling for government intervention for future control of ships in the bay.

Perhaps you missed the Empress of the North, a small passenger ship that sails our west coast and the SE Passage of Alaska. She ran aground for the third time in three years. The most recent incident, in May 2007, while she was being piloted by a freshly minted Mate. Calls for new restrictions are in the works.

The Spirit of Nantucket is another small passenger ship that struck an unknown object in the Intracoastal Waterway, in a very narrow part of the ICW. The captain's intentional grounding of the ship closed the ICW for about 3 days. Also on board was a licensed pilot. The captain is praised for his actions, but the investigation is just beginning.

And then there was the MSC Korea, a large container ship that was just sailing from Savanah, GA, when she lost power and ran aground. She was towed back into port, and tied up at the nearest open dock, which just happened to be an LNG terminal. This has been widely criticised as a major security breach.

All of this in just the past twelve months. These events will have an impact on future regulations. Events of the past have already directly impacted us in 2007. Can you say TWIC? The TWIC is a direct result of 9/11, and that ID card will have zero benefit to our captains performing marine assistance. But it will cost each captain a lost day of work and $132. God only knows what regulations 2008 will bring....