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Welcome to the web site of the United States Great Lakes Shipping Association. I hope you will find this to be a source of information about our organization as well as have it serve as a useful informational tool for our membership and other interested parties.

Comments from the Executive Director



Mid Year Overview

As we enter the second half of 2017, while specific report numbers are not yet available, it appears that the 2017 Lakes/Seaway Navigation Season is thus far proceeding at a healthy pace similar to 2016. Our USGLSA Member Agent’s ship call services continue at a strong level at this juncture. Operations were blessed by light ice conditions at the outset of the Season, and with continuing generally favorable weather conditions as traffic built up. Also experienced have been higher water levels in the Lakes which is a condition generally welcomed by operators for loading. However, the water levels have become high enough to require extraordinary flow control at locations where such capability is available. High water has also created some unhappy situations for owners of residential property and dockage located along rivers and other confined locations where cargo vessels pass on their courses. Waves created by hull displacement and to some extent speed, have threatened these properties with flooding. The encouraging news is that vessels are voluntarily moderating speed in these areas to help alleviate the threat to the properties. We applaud those participating in this cooperative and respectful effort.

Pilotage Rates - Matters pertaining to Lakes pilotage and in particular, existing and proposed rates, have continued to consume significant energy and financial resources from USGLSA and its client stakeholders. As earlier reported, rates established in 2016 by the Lakes Pilotage Office of U.S. Coast Guard were challenged in U.S. Federal Court by USGLSA as a member of an operator and stakeholder coalition. The Court filing occurred now over a year ago. A decision is still pending. In the meantime, the Pilotage Office proceeded with a rate making process covering 2017 rates which were proposed to be even higher than those already being challenged for 2016 and using much of the same methodology already challenged in the 2016 court case. Thus, while all this time the challenged 2016 rates are being charged, a new and higher rate for 2017 was about to be imposed.

However, the most recent development since the last report on this page is that following the end of the comment period for the 2017 rate case, the Coast Guard suspended implementation of the 2017 proposed rate and published on April 5, 2017, a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rule Making (SNPRM) re-opening the matter and inviting further comments on a portion of the initial NPRM which would hold the potential of a material decrease in the amounts to be paid for pilotage. That comment period on reconsideration closed June 5 and no further action has been announced as of the date of these Comments. We do not know what decisions will be made in these various pending matters, but the accounting and application of final results could be chaotic.

Questionable Ordering of Tugs by Pilots - In early April, one Pilotage District of the three Districts covering the U.S. Lakes began a disturbing regular pattern of ordering tug assistance every time for vessels arriving and departing ports while their pilots were on board and working. These tugs were ordered citing safety concerns irrespective of weather or any other apparent adverse conditions and where tugs had never been employed before in such circumstances. The Masters of these vessels (and their owners paying for the tugs) complained that their vessels, equipped with bow thrusters and other modern navigational and operating systems, never needing tugs before. Operators even have video of these tugs being employed in perfect weather. Dozens of Complaint Forms have been filed with the Pilotage Office, but no action has been taken or appears to be forthcoming with USCG officials claiming that no violations appear to exist. This remains a most regrettable circumstance which USGLSA and operators believe is unjustified and creates significant unnecessary additional expense. Curiously, while the Pilot District claims safety in these benign circumstance is still at stake because of inexperienced pilots, we understand that there are no pilots in the District where this is their first year of service. Also, of note is that it appears the first time tugs began to be ordered in this blanket fashion was the date the Pilotage Office announced the SNPRM which raised the possibility of significant reduction the rates pilots might receive in the Final Rule on the 2017 NPRM.

CVIDA Progress -The Commercial Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (CVIDA) and its predecessor VIDA has met with success having been favorably voted out Committee with prospects to being included with U.S Coast Guard Budget Funding legislation. As mentioned earlier, this Bill becoming law would do great things in clarifying and streamlining ballast water management and regulation as we currently know it. More to come.

There are probably some other salient matters I have neglected to address here, but it seems that this has gone on long enough for now. Hopefully, in the coming months remaining in 2017, we will begin to see some final decisions made regarding pending pilotage rate matters and be able to come to a more agreeable situation on the dispatch of tugs as apparently some pilots obtain more experience. Whatever occurs, based on prior experience, it will likely not be easy.

Questions and comments are always welcome.

 

Stuart H. Theis, Executive Director
United States Great Lakes Shipping Association
Cleveland, Ohio
440/357-9104 (Phone)
440/357-9105 (Fax)
Exec.Director@usglsa.org (e-mail)
www.usglsa.org (web)

Reference Links

Stuart Theis



Mr. Theis, who has served as Executive Director since April 2007, is an attorney and businessman with prior associations at Cleveland, Ohio based M. A. Hanna Company and Oglebay Norton Company. At Hanna, he held a variety of legal/operational positions including Corporate Vice President with responsibilities for Hanna's Great Lakes/St Lawrence Seaway and Ocean Marine vessel and dock operations in the U. S. and Canada. While at Oglebay Norton, Mr. Theis served as President of the Company's Great Lakes fleet and dock operations. Mr. Theis is a member of the American Bureau of Shipping and has recently served as a member on two U. S. Coast Guard Advisory Committees, the Great Lakes Pilotage Advisory Committee and the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee.