Friday, March 14, 2008

USCG SAR Meetings

All the commercial salvors and assistance providers should be attending twice annual meetings with their local USCG units. The meetings are intended to provide a forum to discuss operational issues between the Coast Guard and private enterprise, and to foster cooperation between all those acting within the local SAR system, like local fire, police & sheriff departments, and any other agencies that regularly respond.

These meetings are generally scheduled for the spring and fall, so perhaps yours is coming up soon. One item that inevitably appears on the agenda is a review of the Coast Guard MARB proceedures. The Maritime SAR Assistance Policy (MSAP) is the actual document that articulates the MARB concept.

The opening sentence of the MSAP reads:

This section sets forth policy and procedures for handling requests for any type of Search and Rescue (SAR) assistance from the Coast Guard and defines Coast Guard relationships with other possible sources of assistance.
The text of the MSAP then opens with the very first section (4.1.1):

The MSAP is the result of an effort enacted by Congress in 1982. It directed the Commandant to “review Coast Guard policies and procedures for towing and salvage of disabled vessels in order to further minimize the possibility of Coast Guard competition or interference with...commercial enterprise.” The review was directed because of congressional concern that Coast Guard resources were being used unnecessarily to provide nonemergency assistance to disabled vessels that could be adequately performed by the private sector.

The MSAP represents more than a decade of development of relationships among the Coast Guard, Congress, the commercial towing industry, and the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Each iteration of the MSAP has received close scrutiny. It has been a give-and-take process that has culminated in a policy that is equitable to all stakeholders.

Those are perhaps the two most important paragraphs ever written about commercial marine assistance.

The first is a reminder that the U.S. Congress recognized that CG resources were being used unnecessarily (i.e. wasting tax payer dollars), and I think that fact sometimes eludes the local agencies who continue to spend tax dollars on tasks that "could be adequately performed by the private sector."

The second paragraph refers to an equitable relationship to all stakeholders. The equity, however, is directly dependant on all the parties striving to follow the MSAP as rigorously as possible. If the local Lifeguards, for instance, ignore or discount the spirit of the MSAP, or otherwise refuse to recognize the validity of the concepts the MSAP embodies, then a situation of inequity will probably exist.

So, back to the meetings. I think that you should ask that your CG meeting begin with a reading of the above quotes. Heck, its their policy, so they shouldn't balk at saying it outloud. Maybe the local agencies (hopefully in attendance) were not aware of this policy, or the reason for its existance. With the regular promotions and career changes inside the CG, its a good bet that many of the junior USCG staff attending the meeting have never heard those two paragraphs either. Furthermore, the "close scrutiny and give-and-take process" is the reason for the meeting in the first place, and I can think of no better words to explain what the meeting is for than those two paragraphs.