Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Report: CG safety inspectors unqualified

Report: CG safety inspectors unqualified

(Robin's Note: The following article misses one of the main points of the OIG's report. The difference between inspections and investigations.

I have always believed that merging the USCG with DHS was a huge mistake and while the Coast Guard comes to some of the same conclusions as the OIG much of this has to do with the shifting new priorities that the USCG now has and the lack of experienced field level management people.

Here is the actual Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General OIG-08-51 report).

By Philip Ewing - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday May 21, 2008 8:24:22 EDT

The Coast Guard’s maritime safety inspection program is staffed by unqualified personnel who don’t follow proper procedures and mismanage their backlog of thousands of unfinished investigations, according to an internal report by the inspector general of the Department Homeland Security.

The findings, which could have broad implications for the future of U.S. maritime oversight, were unveiled Tuesday before a House panel.

Among a sample of 22 safety investigators, 15 were not fully qualified under U.S. regulations and four were not qualified at all, the investigation found, although a senior Coast Guardsman defended the service’s 136 maritime investigators as a group.

Coast Guard inspectors did not give hundreds of maritime accidents, known as “casualties,” the formal inspections they warranted under official rules, the report says. And in 2006, when the backlog of old investigations got too cumbersome, the Coast Guard closed 3,848 cases it deemed “low risk” even though DHS inspectors found many were worthy of “high risk” treatment, according to the report.

Members of the House Transportation subcommittee on the Coast Guard and maritime transportation and the chairman of the full House Transportation Committee lambasted the Coast Guard about the findings of the investigation during the hearing. They were especially upset because its findings were similar to previous reports from 10 years ago and as far back as 1981.

“I find it to be a disservice to the American people when government kicks around the same issues year after year — or, in this case, decade after decade,” said Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democratic chairman of the Coast Guard subcommittee.

Minnesota Rep. James Oberstar, the Democratic chairman of the full committee, said it was time to re-examine the Coast Guard’s maritime oversight powers from the ground up.

The inspector general’s findings and Oberstar’s comments revived a congressional debate, in limbo for several months, over whether the Coast Guard’s maritime inspection and rule-making powers should be given to another federal agency or an altogether new one.

A new twist on that question is a legislative bid by the National Transportation Safety Board to increase its power in investigations of major maritime accidents. Currently, the Coast Guard and the NTSB collaborate on investigations using an unofficial “memorandum of understanding,” but the agreement puts neither one in charge.

Coast Guardsmen defended their oversight powers Tuesday.

The Coast Guard’s director of prevention policy, Rear Adm. James Watson, told committee members that “your alarm has reverberated throughout the Coast Guard.”

But he said the service wants to keep its maritime oversight powers, even after gaining a slew of new post-Sept. 11 security responsibilities. Ceding high-level maritime investigations to the NTSB could have many unintended consequences and be seen worldwide as a “demotion of the authority of the commandant” of the Coast Guard, Watson said.

Watson said that, for the most part, the Coast Guard agreed with the findings of the report.

The Coast Guard has agreed to increase its number of maritime inspectors, change its personnel management to encourage longer port-security tours and adopt more stringent rules for vessel inspections. The service already asked for 276 new sector-level billets in its fiscal 2009 budget requests. All those changes, top Coast Guardsmen say, will strengthen the service’s ability to make sure ships are safe.

Even with those changes, the NTSB wants Congress to make it the automatic lead investigative agency in major marine incidents, said board member Kathryn O’Leary Higgins, who also appeared before the subcommittee.

Maritime casualties are the only type of transportation accident over which the NTSB doesn’t have automatic authority, she said. In the case of accidents such as air crashes or bridge collapses, the NTSB investigates alongside other federal agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But Congress didn’t give the NTSB authority in maritime accidents, so it uses the memorandum of understanding with the Coast Guard and informal personal ties between officials.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen “is a good friend of mine,” Higgins said.

Officials from both the Coast Guard and NTSB agreed that the agencies work well together in inspecting most major maritime casualties, except the most recent one — the November accident in which the freighter Cosco Busan rammed the San Francisco Bay Bridge and spilled 58,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay.

In that case, Higgins said, NTSB investigators didn’t respond to the spill for three days because the first Coast Guardsmen on the scene erred in assessing the size of the spill, believing it was too small to warrant NTSB involvement.

The lost time meant the NTSB couldn’t immediately secure the Cosco Busan’s voyage data recorder — the ship’s “black box” — or test the ship’s crew for alcohol or drugs.

Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, defended the relationship between the Coast Guard and the NTSB, pointing out that even though it criticized the Coast Guard, the DHS report did not look into the qualifications of NTSB inspectors as potential replacements. And since there has never been a serious deadlock over which agency would take the lead on a casualty investigation, LaTourette said, there’s no need to change the system.

Cummings disagreed, saying such a system can’t rely on the personalities of its participants.

“I would hope that everybody who takes on the job as commandant would be as good as Adm. Allen,” Cummings said. “But what about when we’re all gone, having hearings up in heaven?”


The US Coast Guard issued its Marine Safety Performance Plan. The goals of the plan are to: (1) reduce maritime casualties; (2) improve service to mariners, the industry, and the public; (3) improve program process and management; and (4) improve human resource capabilities. Note: These goals will not easily be achieved due primarily to capacity limitations (monies and personnel).

While Congress has belatedly appropriated monies and authorized increased personnel for the marine safety program, it will take time to grow the talent and experience required to effect the planned improvements. The Coast Guard, though, has both the tradition and the attitude needed to accomplish this mission. The Plan is intended to be a living document and public input is important. Comments should be submitted within the next 60 days to: MSPerformancePlan@uscg.mil (5/22/08).


One of my contacts who retired from the USCG and is familiar with these issues wrote to me recently with regards to this OIG report. Here is what he had to say...

I concur with the OIG findings 100%, except I also understand the Coast Guard’s concerns. The Coast Guard does a fine job 95-99% of the time with its limited resources and increase in responsibilities.The problem is the lack of qualified personnel at the field and management levels.

The Coast Guard has basically combined its major mission areas under one Mission Commander, the Sector Commander and has combined its’ Headquarters staff elements or diverted Marine Safety elements to other Directorates. While this provides ready access to resources for all missions, it has not effectively and sufficiently maintained a qualified workforce. How can it do so?

Before last year’s reorganization and before I left the Coast Guard, I noted the following (these are similar to OIG’s findings in the report):

(1) It takes 2-3 years to fully qualify an inspector to be a Machinery, and/or Small Vessel Inspectors; at least 1 year to fully train a field investigator.

(2) There were is a limited number of quotas for Port Operations, Marine Inspections, and Basic Investigator Courses.

(3) Qualified Inspectors and Investigators were either diverted to other higher priority mission areas, were transferred to another Sector/another Command (COMDT, Area/District Staff, Instructor duty, or retired prior to the arrival of a new investigator/inspector. This effectively stifled the training process for new inspectors/investigators.

(4) New investigators had little prior experience or had not performed field investigative duties for several tours 6(when the training and qualification process was different).

(5) Managers at the District or Headquarters levels often have less experience than their field counterparts (or no experience). The Coast Guard would regularly assign junior officers to Staff positions.

(6) While some of the Inspections and Investigation functions have been civilianized. Job burnout, poor management, or other issues often hamper effective performance of some of these investigators/inspectors.

Also, there are an insufficient number of civilian investigators to adequately prosecute existing investigations.

(7) The Coast Guard, cognizant of its limited workforce, set the bar too high for which cases it would actively pursue. Often, smaller cases hide larger issues. This was a big problem when I was doing facility inspections in the late 70s and again in the late 80s.

(8)Since 9-11-2001, many of the qualified enlisted and officer populations are prosecuting Homeland Security issues (L/E and immigration enforcement).

Here are my recommendations:

(1) Civilianization of inspection/investigation process would increase the numbers, but enforcement actions could not be performed because of legislative limitations. Only Coast Guard Officers/Petty Officers can perform law enforcement activities on vessels. See 14 USC 89.

(2) One possible workaround is pairing of military and civilian personnel on inspections/investigations. This means you also have to increase the number of military as well as civilian inspectors/investigators.

(3) You need career paths for inspectors/investigators. This means that inspectors and investigators would be have to be trained early on and retrained at regular intervals to maintain currency and continuity with respect to changing regulations and/or laws.

(4) No one should be transferred to a staff position earlier than their mid-career point (i.e. after 8-12 years of field experience in a particular specialty, e.g. inspections, investigations, port control (international standards compliance), etc.

(5) Lengthen the tour at each unit to 5 years for military inspectors/investigators. Rotate only 10-20% of your inspection force every year (but not internally to another Department). The rotation dates should overlap.

(6) No personnel should be transferred to a field unit with less than 3 years remaining on their enlistment contract or with less than 3 years to mandatory retirement, unless they are needed to train less qualified personnel or head the Department. Heads of Departments should be 3rd tour in a particular specialty (that means they have no less than 8 years field experience).

(7) Career incentives (i.e. advanced training, monetary rewards, etc.) should be given to those who display exceptional ability/mentoring skills.


Twister season active, deadly

The United States is experiencing its deadliest tornado season in a decade and may be on pace to set a record for the most tornadoes in a year. But are there really more twisters, or are we just getting better at counting them? And does global warming have anything to do with it?

The numbers

At least 100 people have been killed by tornadoes through mid-May, the highest number for that period since 1998. A preliminary tally shows 868 tornadoes were reported through May 18, a pace about equal to that in 2004, which saw an unprecedented 1,819 tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

Early start

This year, 136 tornadoes were reported in January and 232 in February. That's way over the 1953-2005 average of 19 tornadoes in January and 21 in February.

Only on paper?

In the 1950s, there were about 550 tornadoes recorded in a year. Now there are more than twice that number. . But experts say the increase probably is just on paper, the result of improvements in weather radar, better public awareness and the proliferation of video cameras that mean many more small tornadoes are officially tracked. "There's no trend," said Greg Carbin of the Storm Prediction Center.

A double dose

Don't try telling John Hill that twisters aren't getting worse. Hill, 31, lost his job Feb. 2 when a huge twister demolished the boat factory in Clinton, Ark., where he worked as a welder. Little more than three months later, Hill lost his house, cars and cash savings to another tornado. "I've lived in Arkansas most of my life, and I've never seen this many tornadoes," he said.

Getting warmer?

Scientists don't know whether global warming is a factor in this rough season for tornadoes. Robert Trapp, an associate professor of atmospheric science at Purdue University, has found that if human contributions to greenhouse gas emissions raised the global mean temperature by 3.6 to 10.8 degrees by the end of the century, the number of days with conditions that could create severe thunderstorms could double in cities in the South and along the Eastern Seaboard. But Trapp and other experts agree that there is not enough good data to link tornadoes and global warming.

Severe Weather Leaves Death and Destruction in US Heartland

26 May 2008

Flakus report - Download (MP3) audio clip
Flakus report - Listen (MP3) audio clip

A band of storms stretching from the Texas Panhandle to Wisconsin has caused death and destruction in the central United States during the past few days. At least 7 people were killed in Iowa and Minnesota by tornadoes on Sunday. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, this is the worst storm season in a decade in the central plains states.

According to the National Weather Service more than 100 people have died in tornadoes this year, the worst toll in a decade, and there may be many more storms to come.

The worst tornado Sunday was the one that hit the town of Parkersburg, Iowa. Mayor Robert Haylock says about a third of the town of about 1,000 residents was destroyed. He said early warning sirens sent people scrambling to underground shelters.

"We had real good notice," said Haylock. "Our sirens all went off well in advance. People were down in their basements waiting for it."

Emergency crews arrived shortly after the storm struck. Some residents were able to visit the rubble of what had been their homes, but officials cautioned people to be wary of downed electrical lines and broken gas pipes.

Iowa's governor and two senators toured the disaster site and say they plan to ask President Bush for federal help.

In a VOA telephone interview, Emergency Management Coordinator Steve Ulrich said Parkersburg has been left uninhabitable for the moment.

URLICH: "The whole town really has no place to stay. We have no water, electricity, gas or anything, so there is no place right now."

FLAKUS: "What is being done for those people?"

URLICH: "Being Iowans that we have here and hardy, and neighbor taking care of neighbor, and relative taking care of relative, a lot of them are going to their family, friends and staying with them. We are providing some shelter for those who do not have any of those resources."

A tornado also hit the town of Hugo, near St Paul, Minnesota Sunday.

On Saturday, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes raked across Oklahoma destroying some buildings and uprooting trees, but causing no injuries.

In the neighboring state of Kansas, crews continue to clean up after a storm system that spawned 17 tornadoes last week and left two people dead. A tornado also killed one person in northern Colorado and damaged nearly 600 homes.

Weather experts say there could be more destructive storms ahead because of atmospheric conditions this year that favor storm formation. Tornado activity typically peaks in early summer and then decreases until late fall, when there is often another spike in severe storms


Skipper hit over grounding

THE master of the Pasha Bulker was mainly to blame for the ship running aground on a Newcastle beach, a federal investigation has found.

But the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has also criticised the Newcastle Port Corporation for acting too slowly and the masters of other ships in the area at the time for engaging in risky behaviour.
Pic gallery: The Pasha Bulker story
The 225m Panamanian-registered coal carrier turned into an instant tourist attraction when it became wedged on a sandbar off Nobbys Beach, near Newcastle, during wild storms in June last year. It remained stranded just metres from the shoreline for 25 days while a major salvage operation was planned and executed.

The ATSB's final report into the incident found the ship's master ignored signs that a dangerous situation was developing and made a string of bad decisions.

"The unwise decision not to ballast the ship for heavy weather and remain at anchor were the result of his inadequate knowledge of issues related to ballast, anchor-holding power and local weather," the report said.

The ship's South Korean master had had too little sleep in the previous 24 hours, ATSB spokesman Peter Foley said.

"He became increasingly overloaded by fatigue, anxiety and uncertainty and he had had little effective assistance from other members of the crew."

But the Pasha Bulker's master had not been the only one who made poor decisions.

"Only seven of the 57 ships in the anchorage at the time took the prudent course to leave the anchorage before the onset of the heavy weather," Mr Foley said. "In essence, the actions taken by most of the masters in the anchorage at the time, including Pasha Bulker's, were just too little, too late."

Mr Foley also pointed the finger at the Newcastle Port Corporation.

"It was found the port corporation was not sufficiently responsive to the increasing seriousness of the situation and, as a result, notifications to the Commonwealth authorities . . . was late," he said.

Newcastle Vessel Traffic Information Centre did not provide weather advice to ships off the port until after weather conditions had already become extreme, the report also found.

The report, which makes 11 recommendations, also found the queue of 57 ships off Newcastle at the time of the incident increased the risks of collision and grounding.

Marine Safety Investigation Report - Final

Independent investigation into the grounding of the Panamanian registered bulk carrier Pasha Bulker on Nobbys Beach, Newcastle, New South Wales on 8 June 2007

On 23 May 2007, the Panamanian registered bulk carrier Pasha Bulker anchored 2.4 miles off the coast near Newcastle, New South Wales. The ship had sufficient water ballast on board for the good weather at the time, and was not expected to load its coal cargo for about three weeks.

At midday on 7 June, Pasha Bulker's master veered more anchor cable after a gale warning was issued. The weather deteriorated and shortly after midnight, the wind had reached gale force.

At 0500 on 8 June, the wind had increased to strong gale force and the weather was severe. At 0625, Pasha Bulker started to drag its anchor. The master decided to put to sea and at 0748, the anchor was aweigh. The ship was now 1.2 miles from the shore and, with the southeast wind fine on the starboard bow, it made good a north-easterly course. At 0906, the master altered the ship’s course to starboard to put the wind on the port bow in an attempt to make good a southerly course on a south-southeasterly heading. However, its heading became south-westerly and, with the wind on the port beam, the ship started to rapidly approach the coast.

At 0931, with Nobbys Beach 0.8 of a mile away, the master attempted a starboard turn. The manoeuvre did not succeed and at 0946, with grounding imminent, he requested assistance from authorities ashore. At 0951, Pasha Bulker grounded on Nobbys Beach and the ship's momentum carried it further onto the beach. The crew were evacuated by helicopter during the afternoon.

On 2 July, Pasha Bulker was successfully refloated. The ship was temporarily repaired in Newcastle and on 26 July, taken in tow to Vietnam to undergo permanent repairs.

The report identifies a number of safety issues and issues recommendations or safety advisory notices to address them.

Download complete report [4.6 MB PDF]

Marine Safety Recommendations

[MR20080009] [MR20080010] [MR20080011] [MR20080012] [MR20080013] [MR20080014] [MR20080015] [MR20080016] [MR20080017] [MR20080018] [MR20080019]

Safety Advisory Notices

[MS20080015] [MS20080016] [MS20080017] [MS20080018]


very close


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