U.S. Ships Facing Tighter Regulations
This year has been the worst year for oil spills from barges since 2008. The largest of the spills occurred on March 22nd when a collision in the Houston Ship Channel spilled 168,000 gallons of oil from a barge and closed the ship channel for three days. With export traffic on the rise and the size of vessels constantly increasing, the Coast Guard plans to issue new regulations that would require commercial vessels to be equipped with Automatic Identification System (AIS) technology in hopes to reduce the number of collisions in U.S. waterways. AIS technology uses transponders and electronic charts displays to alert pilots of nearby vessels.
American Waterways Operators, a trade group for the U.S. tugboat, towboat and barge industry is also pushing the government to enact towing-vessel inspection regulations. The regulations were authorized by Congress in 2004 but have not taken effect. These regulations standardize inspections on towing vessels over 26 feet long, as well as any ship pushing, pulling or hauling a barge carrying hazardous materials.
Standardized inspections and AIS technology will help reduce the number of collisions on the waterway, but it won't prevent them all. If the problem persists, the government could consider implementing a speed limit for vessels. Currently, there is no specific speed limit on U.S. waterway. The law simply says that mariners should consider all relevant factors and determine their own "safe speed" in order to avoid collisions.