Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Standard Deviations...

more on the cport meeting....
At one point, a question was posed asking why C-PORT wasn't the logical forum for the industry to create some standards that would reflect what would be "fair and reasonable" salvage demands. This discussion was swiftly squashed as the executive director (correctly) pointed out that any discussion of prices or fees was strictly forbidden under anti-trust laws, and would jeopardize C-PORT's non-profit status.

I have some great news for Red Right Returning readers: this blog is not affiliated with C-PORT, and in fact I'm not even a member of C-PORT. I wish I could make money writing this blog, but I don't make a nickle. Even so, RRR is not subject to any laws that govern non-profit entities. Finally, since I don't own a towing company (any more), I'm free to discuss the subject with impunity, and I probably will in the near future. (Full disclosure: I am a summertime sub-contractor to a privately held towing and salvage company.)

But couldn't C-PORT at least cozy up to the issue by discussing some billing standards, or disseminating an industry wide lexicon, so we are all talking about the same thing when we use jargon like "soft-aground" or "Open Form."

The insurance industry would like to see us adopt some standards, right? OK, let's play a little game of "good for the goose, good for the gander". I say we contact the American Insurance Association , and propose that we jointly adopt the following:

C-PORT salvors will abide by the International Convention on Salvage-1989, as ratified by the United States of America, whenever applicable.
The insurance companies will refrain from ignoring or attempting to renegotiate international treaties, and instead recognize that as companies licensed to do business in the USA, they too are bound by the treaties signed by their government.

C-PORT salvors will document everything we can, with photos, video, audio, witness names and signed contracts.
The insurance companies agree that someone who has check writing authority will actually read/watch/listen to that stuff BEFORE they pass it on to an attorney.

C-PORT salvors will submit a written report detailing everything that occurred, and back up our details with the above mentioned documentation.
The insurance companies agree to submit any evidence - including verbal statements that contradict our version of the events - from their clients or witnesses to us in writing, with names and contact info for each.

C-PORT salvors agree to notify the insurance company within 24 hours after the vessel's redelivery (if not sooner) and request that a claim be opened.
Insurance companies agree to open a claim when they have knowledge of a salvage event, and provide all the parties a claim number when one is requested.

C-PORT salvors agree to submit a detailed salvage report within 15 days of the vessel's redelivery.
Insurance companies agree a supply a copy of the declaration page of the policy to the salvor within 5 business days after they receive notice that a salvage claim is pending.

C-PORT salvors agree that they are bound by the arbitration clause in signed salvage contracts.
Insurance companies agree that they are bound by the arbitration clause in salvage contracts signed by their clients.

Don't even get me started about Letters of Undertaking.

....I'm ready to duck.....let 'em fly.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TWIC Final Notice

I think we're all up to date, but the deadline nears....please pass this on to all the hold-outs and doubters out there who still don't think they need a TWIC.
TWIC Information Bulletin Feb 2009

There is still one thing missing from all the notices disseminated by the USCG so far: what is the penalty for non-compliance? I have yet to see a single, definitive answer as to what they will actually do if they discover that you hold a credential and didn't get a TWIC. Will they suspend your license? Will they revoke it for life? Will they just tell you to get a TWIC and don't ever do that again?

Look, if they are going to set a deadline, fine. But shouldn't a deadline include some sort of ultimatum - a consequence for not meeting the deadline? "You do this by this date, or else!" Hello? Would someone at the USCG please tell us the consequence for blowing off the April 15th deadline.

So far, the only thing I've seen in writing is what is actually in the CFRs: (46CFR10.113)
Failure to obtain or hold a valid TWIC may serve as a basis for suspension or revocation of a mariner's license, COR or STCW endorsement under 46 U.S.C. 7702 and 7703.
Failure may serve...or... maybe not? Furthermore, 46USC7702/7703 could be interpreted as only applying if you were acting under the authority of your license. Not a single TWIC bulletin or memo from the USCG ever mentions that loophole when stating the policy of mandatory TWIC by the deadline. They all say holding, not using. Big difference.

Here is what's got my barnacles all bunched up; I think that guys who missed the deadline should suffer some consequences beyond just having to go get a TWIC. I think the USCG should issue a written policy that says so. Something like this: All mariners who failed to meet the TWIC deadline will have their credentails automatically suspended for one year. Is that so hard to say?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sorry, the Bar is Closed

Today's Federal Register contains this tidbit - perhaps not totally unexpected.
ACTION: Notice of proposed

Regulated Navigation Areas;
Bars Along the Coasts of Oregon and Washington

AGENCY: Coast Guard, DHS.

SUMMARY: The Coast Guard proposes to establish Regulated Navigation Areas (RNA) covering specific bars along the coasts of Oregon and Washington that will include procedures for restricting and/or closing those bars as well as additional safety requirements for recreational and small commercial vessels operating in the RNAs. The RNAs are necessary to help ensure the safety of the persons and vessels operating in those hazardous bar areas. The RNAs will do so by establishing clear procedures for restricting and/or closing the bars and mandating additional safety requirements for recreational and small commercial vessels operating in the RNAs when certain conditions exist.

If you want to read it all, click here.

Comments - Once again, I think the USCG is passing a new regulation as a knee jerk reaction to a single, isolated case; specifically, the case of Captain Oba who defied the Coast Guard's orders and attempted to cross the Umpqua River Bar. [read details here at Professional Mariner]. A snip from the proposed regulation:

Bar restriction. Passage across the bars located in the
regulated navigation areas established in paragraph
(a) of this section will be restricted for recreational
and uninspected passenger vessels as determined by....

So, the new regulation specifically targets uninspected passenger vessels, 6 pack charters, T boats, recreational boats etc. Oba was operating a 6 pac charter on his 38' Bertram. Here is the dumb part: the Coast had closed the Umpqua River Bar before Oba attempted his crossing, and the fool tried it anyway, resulting in the deaths of 3 of his passengers. Accounts of the incident indicate that the USCG contacted Oba numerous times to warn him off, and the offical record does say that the CG had "closed the bar" before the tragedy. [earlier post on this]

So, my question is this: Does this proposed new regulation mean that when the USCG closes the bar, it's really REALLY closed?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Discounts on A/V equip and cases

Mitch Kramer from TowBoatUS North Shore asked me to spread the word about some great discounts he has for you. If you're shopping for a small, waterproof camera, or waterproof cases, check out these products below. Mitch can get you these items at very low prices, but you have to order through him. Contact him directly at for further information.

I especially like the EPIC stealth cam. He can get you a complete kit w/accessories for under $130.

DiCAPac -waterproof cell phone/camera cases

DryPak- waterproof cases

Epic- video/audio still pic cameras

GoPro- video/audio still pic cameras

LokSak- waterproof bags

OtterBox- waterproof boxes

PCShade- Laptop screens

StormCase- waterproof boxes/cases

Watershed-waterproof duffel bags,backpacks, deck bags

Witz- waterproof cases

thanks Mitch...

Still more Derelicts in the news

Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
As reported today in the Peninsula Daily News: (in Washington state)

PORT ANGELES -- A boat that was marooned in Port Angeles Harbor for eight weeks is finally high and dry.

The badly-damaged 36-foot Montana Drifter was towed from its partially-submerged state near the Rayonier property to the Port Angeles Marina on Saturday afternoon.

Jay Ketchum, owner of Affordable Services of Sequim and a professional diver, was hired by the state Department of Natural Resources to raise, secure and tow the grounded vessel to the marina, where it will be disassembled and taken to dumps and scrap yards.....

DNR contacted Ketchum about moving the boat about week ago, he said. They agreed to a contract ranging between $4,000 and $6,000 to move the boat, Ketchum said....

Gasper [the owner] was being fined $8.11 per day by the DNR, which was set to declare the Montana Drifter derelict on Feb. 16.

A couple of points, and a few of questions.
  • Its nice to see gov't agencies actually declaring boats as derelict.
  • I'm glad to see the DNR contracting out to private firms for the work.
  • What are Mr. Ketchum's qualifications to be a professional diver?
  • Is that reported fine amount correct? $8/day ???
  • Was that contract put out to competitive bidding?
  • Once the boat is on dry land, who is paying for the disassembly and transportation to the dump? Who will dispose of the hazardous materials still in the boat?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Derelict Disposal Company

photo: this is one way to dispose of an old boat. I rented a skip loader back in Marina Del Rey and we crushed 6 boats in one day.

I received an email from Joe Velardo, who Googled "derelict boat" and found RRR. He has started a new company called Derelict Vessel Solutions. He has put together a small web site. Joe indicated that he was inspired to start his new company in part due to his reading of my posts here at RRR about the derelict vessel issue. I wish him luck.

Joe, if you're reading this, your web site is a nice start, but please at least add some information about where you are located and what geographical areas you plan to service. If you are really serious about a business, you should provide a contact phone number.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Contemplating Values

photo: Ringo contemplates his contribution to the crew of Water Torture...

The salvage seminar at last week’s C-PORT conference included some discussion about “fair and reasonable” charges for salvage awards. I will argue about fair and reasonable in another post. Today, I want to correct what I feel was a serious error brought forth by the panel. This error was compounded when at least two members of the audience agreed with the underlying principal.

The error was this: a good way to determine if your salvage bill is fair and reasonable would be to consider how much that kind of service would be worth to you. To reinforce that idea, a panelist restated it this way: “How much would I be willing to pay for this salvage on my boat?” The implication is that if you feel the fee is more than you would be willing to pay, then it’s more than you should charge.

This thought process exhibits a failure to understand the underlying concept of salvage awards. The question is not how much is someone willing to pay for a service – the question is how much would you be willing to pay to prevent further damage or total destruction of your vessel. That is the essence of a salvage award. A salvage award is based more on what if, than it is on what happened. This is a critical distinction. Attendees of the seminar may be left with the mistaken idea that a salvor should wonder “how much would I have paid someone to toss me a line to keep my boat from hitting a bridge?”

Admiralty law poses a very different question – “what would the boat be worth if it did hit the bridge?” The real value of your effort is extracted from the answer to that question, and the final award may not always seem reasonable if you limit yourself to contemplating the value of services rendered.

The discussion further confused the issue by placing the cost burden on the boat owner instead of where it almost always falls: the insurance company. To be really precise, a well reasoned salvage award is based on this question: how much should the insurance company pony up to enjoy the fruits of your success? If you save a boat from hitting a bridge, it is well established in law that the insurance company is a direct beneficiary of your entire operation – the money you have invested in equipment, office space, your years of training and experience, your readiness and your skill - in addition to the value of your on-scene efforts. This is why professional salvors generally receive larger awards than Good Samaritans.

Considering how much you would pay for a job is an insufficient method for producing a well reasoned salvage demand, because it emphasizes what actually happened. A true salvor gets rewarded for what didn't happen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What's in YOUR 401(k)?

This year's C-PORT convention is over. It was fairly well attended, although it seemed to me like too many yellow shirts dashed for the doors at the conclusion of their conference on Friday, just as C-PORT was getting started. In this photo, John Aydelotte uses his new spyglass to scan the hallways for wayward TowBees. ARRGH!

There are a few things that came up during the conference that I am compelled to comment on - especially the touchy subject that was on the agenda for Sunday morning: Salvage. I commend Terry Hill and the conference organizers for once again scheduling a topic that historically has potential to deteriorate from discussion to food fight. (I ducked some rotten apples myself a few years ago...)

The salvage panel included Mr. Doug Wager, a surveyor and insurance adjuster with many years of experience. During his closing remarks, he suggested that marine salvors perhaps expect too much for their work. He said "Too many salvors expect to retire off of one job," and he indicated that those kinds of invoices were unacceptable from his point of view (and, by association, from the insurance industry's point of view). The context of this remark was within his comments about ethics and our choice of the marine assistance industry to make our living. (Program note: nary a doughnut was tossed, not even a cracker!)

Now, I infer from these comments that Mr. Wager feels that a proper, i.e ethical salvage award would not be enough money for a guy to actually retire on. To this sentiment I have two words: Cherry Valley.

Skip Strong was the captain of the Cherry Valley, and his masterful seamanship saved a space shuttle fuel tank (and the tug that was towing it) from certain destruction. Indeed, he was so skilled that there was virtually no damage to any of the vessels involved. The story of this salvage is widely regarded as perhaps the penultimate example of a pure salvage in admiralty law, and the final figure of $4.7 million is probably the highest dollar amount ever awarded in any salvage case. The 25 crew members of the Cherry Valley shared $1,752,642 between them, in differing portions. Keystone, the company that owns the Cherry Valley, got the other $3 million. Captain Strong personally received about $287,000 for his share. The job took 2 days.

On the final page of his book, Captain Strong writes: "My wife Annie and I could now start to look for a house in earnest." Strong didn't retire, but his award made it possible for him to resign as a ship's captain, buy a house and he now works as a harbor pilot in Maine.

Does Mr. Wager thinks Captain Strong is a greedy pirate who was able to purchase a house with ill gotten gains? I don't know, but based on his comments to the C-PORT members, I have to wonder if he would object to the Cherry Valley award - 12.5% of salved value, a percentage that is quite common in our recreational salvage cases.

The story of Captain Strong's efforts to save a tug and her barge is one of skill, courage and extraordinary seamanship, and the salvage award that prevailed was argued, appealed and litigated at the highest levels of our courts. The case of the Cherry Valley is a modern affirmation of the concepts behind Blackwall and SalCon89. I don't see anything in there about retirement.