"ripped" from U.S.C.G.'s Website
Domestic/International Vessel Standards
Executive Overview :
Over 95% of our nations
imports and exports are carried by ship. The majority of these
ships are foreign flagged. In order to allow for the
uninterrupted flow of commerce, while simultaneously ensuring for
the safety of life at sea and the protection of the marine
environment; a uniform, international set of standards applicable
to ships worldwide is necessary. The CG is the lead agency for
the development of these standards, and to ensure uniformity,
should be the single focal point internationally as advances in
marine safety and environmental protection occur. However, in
order to develop sound international and domestic standards,
input from the States is critical, and the CG actively seeks that
Objective : The United States must speak
with one voice in developing safety and environmental protection
standards applicable to ships in international trade. The CG,
working in close cooperation with affected coastal states, is our
nations lead agency in the development of these standards.
Since the founding of the U.S., interstate
and international shipping has been regulated by the federal
government, largely to the exclusion of the States. Since the
sinking of the TITANIC in 1912, vessel regulation has taken an
increasingly international approach, with worldwide standards
developed by the International Maritime Organization, a branch of
the United Nations (U.N.), based in London. In the last 160
years, various States have attempted to regulate ships in
interstate and international trade. With very limited exceptions,
these State regulatory efforts have been found preempted by the
- 95 % of our nations imports and
exports are carried by ship. Most of the vessels carrying
these goods are foreign flagged.
- Vessels in international trade are
subject to a comprehensive, complex system of regulation,
covering nearly every aspect of vessel design,
construction, equipment and operation.
- International regulations are developed
by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a
branch of the U.N. Treaties developed by the IMO to which
the United States is a party include the International
Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships
(MARPOL), the International Convention for the Safety of
Life at Sea (SOLAS), Standards for the Training,
Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), and
the International Safety Management Code (ISM). Many
other conventions also impact international shipping. The
United States has been, and continues to be a leader in
the development of new international standards at IMO.
- To facilitate international trade, the
IMO regulatory regime is based on a system of
reciprocity. If a nation certifies that a ship flying its
flag meets all IMO requirements, then that ship will be
authorized to enter the ports of other parties. However,
most leading import/export nations also maintain a robust
port state control system to verify that foreign flagged
ships actually meet the conditions described in their certifications.
- To keep the system of reciprocity
viable, unilateral action is not favored. When change or
improvements in vessel regulation are necessary to
protect U.S. interests or our environment, the U.S.
approach has traditionally been to seek resolution
through IMO. Exceptions to this principle have occurred,
though infrequently. The most notable recent example was
the unilateral U.S. requirement for double hulls on oil
tankers in the wake of the EXXON VALDEZ disaster.
However, IMO has since developed international
regulations that are analogous to the double hull
requirement in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.
- State regulation of international
shipping has long been viewed as preempted by the federal
government. Courts have consistently held that the
consistency and uniformity needed to ensure the smooth
flow of international commerce would be disrupted by a
patchwork quilt of regulatory regimes by every coastal state.
- The most recent State to attempt
regulation of international trade was Washington State,
which, in the wake of EXXON VALDEZ, imposed a
comprehensive scheme of regulation on oil tankers
entering Puget Sound. Many of these regulations differed
or conflicted with the federal/International system of
regulation. An industry group, known as Intertanko, filed
suit challenging Washingtons regulations. The U.S.
government later joined the suit.
- In March, 2000 the U.S. Supreme Court
decided that the only the federal government (i.e. the
CG) may regulate in the areas of design, construction,
equipment, maintenance, alteration, repair, operation,
manning, personnel certification and casualty reporting
on vessels. States may regulate only in regard to
navigation safety rules (e.g., speed limits) in areas
where the federal government has not already regulated
and where local peculiarities necessitate State action.
The Supreme Courts ruling invalidated many of
Washingtons regulations. Washington then repealed
the remaining regulations.
- In the wake of the Intertanko decision,
two States, Maine and Rhode Island took action to repeal
vessel regulations likely preempted. Since the decision,
only one State Texas has proposed new
regulations. The CG is currently working with Texas to
resolve any potential preemption problems.
Proposed Action / The Course Ahead :
- Given the strong need for clarity and
uniformity in vessel regulation, the CG should remain the
"single voice" speaking for the U.S. as new
regulations are developed to ensure increased safety and
greater protection of the environment on the water.
However, the input of the States is a critical part of
the development of new regulatory regimes. The CG is
committed to maintaining an active and effective outreach
program with the States, at both the Headquarters and
field unit level, to ensure that their needs are met and
their ideas are considered.
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