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Public Statements

Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I rise in support of H.R. 2838, Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012, which we sent to the President late last week. This important bill provides authorization for all of the programs and missions of the United States Coast Guard, along with provisions important to the maritime industry.

One important provision in the bill addresses the tonnage situation of the vessel Aqueos Acadian. The system of tonnage measurement, though arcane and complicated, is vital to the operation and economics of any vessel. In the case of the Aqueos Acadian, its original configuration in 1973 was certified in Coast Guard documentation to be 274 gross registered tons, GRT, which is the official domestic tonnage measurement. Later, the vessel had an addition of a closed-in shelter deck, which increased its domestic tonnage, as well as its international tonnage, which is measured differently than domestic tonnage under the International Tonnage Convention, ITC, rules. Later still, the modifications that increased the tonnage measurements were removed, and the vessel's official documents were issued by the Coast Guard and ABS to reflect that its GRT had been reduced to 275, almost exactly the original tonnage.

Vessels with greater than 300 GRT have safety and manning requirements much more complicated than vessels at or below 300 GRT. At the time of the certification of the down-sizing modifications, the ITC tonnage was not reduced because the Coast Guard's ability to reduce international tonnage administratively is either extremely arcane or non-existent--even if the vessel's tonnage has in fact been reduced.

When Aqueos Corporation in Louisiana purchased the vessel, its official documents reflected that the GRT had been reduced to below 300 GRT. Relying on those Coast Guard and ABS issued documents, the company sought Coast Guard administrative help to reduce the international tonnage commensurate with the GRT. The Coast Guard bill includes language that allows the company to keep operating the vessel under its current documentation and allows time to complete the tonnage-reducing modifications that were not done by the previous owners of the vessel but that the Coast Guard has said must be done. Unfortunately, the ITC tonnage reduction remains incomplete. The provision does not restore the vessel's ITC tonnage to that of the GRT. This second step would afford to the vessel the same result that other vessels in the Aqueos Acadian's class have, through a previous legislative grandfather provision, that allows those vessels' GRT and ITC tonnage to be the same. This second step would not give the vessel a competitive advantage relative to other vessels in the Acadian's class; rather, without it the company is at a competitive disadvantage with those other vessels. As time goes by, the vessel is losing out on potentially millions of dollars of domestic and international work.

It is not yet clear whether such an administrative solution can be achieved. I understand the concern addressed by the ITC about vessels having substantially changed size, and I agree that a larger vessel should be regulated at a larger tonnage. Unfortunately, the way that the ITC addresses this situation is to forever assign a vessel a higher tonnage even if tonnage has been actually reduced. This vessel should be recognized to its lower tonnage and should not be forced into a regime that does not recognize its circumstance. I believe we should seek additional legislative language that would correct the international tonnage problem, but in the interim I look forward to continuing to work with the Coast Guard and encourage the agency to develop an administrative solution to this situation.

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