Forty U.S.-flag vessels were detained for safety deficiencies in 2018, information that is part of new inspection data being made public in the aftermath of one of the country’s biggest cargo ship disasters.
The El Faro, a “roll-on/roll-off” cargo ship that shuttled cargo to and from Jacksonville, Florida and San Juan, Puerto Rico, became disabled and sank near the Bahamas after getting caught in Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015, killing all 33 crew members onboard.
To help bolster safety oversight that was found lacking on the El Faro before the accident, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) was required to begin tracking and publishing ship detainments – known as “no-sail” orders – and other vessel safety inspection information for U.S.-flag vessels, as it does routinely for foreign-flag vessels that enter U.S. ports.
“Since this is only the second annual report for the U.S. flag fleet, 2018 will serve as the first waypoint in trend analysis over the 2017 baseline in regard to key performance indicators and potential issues in the fleet,” a USCG spokesman told FreightWaves after the report was made public on April 19.
Of the 40 vessels detained last year among nearly 20,000 U.S.-flag vessels (most of which are small passenger and towing vessels), six were cargo ships. Aside from a requirement, in some cases, to initiate more rigorous safety management procedures, detainments can cost vessel operators money in revenue lost while the vessel is out of service.
Depending on the severity, a deficiency found during a USCG vessel inspection can also be costly for operators. In 2018, the USCG identified 2,287 deficiencies during 1,485 vessel inspections for a 4.17 deficiency rate per vessel, compared with a 5.17 deficiency rate in 2017. However, cargo vessels accounted for 9 percent of overall USCG-issued deficiencies in 2018, up from 8 percent in 2017, according to the data. Of the 221 cargo vessels issued deficiencies in 2018, material failure/malfunction accounted for over half (53.2 percent), followed by loss or reduction of vessel propulsion (15.1 percent) and injury or death (10.2 percent).
Information on foreign commercial vessel inspections, released on April 23, revealed a 1.16 percent detention rate, which is a slight increase over last year.
“Our data this year shows the number of detentions related to firefighting systems and safety management systems remained similar to the past few years,” the report noted, while violations related to the dumping of untreated oil and bilge water overboard decreased to their lowest levels.