U.S. Coast Guard inspectors spotted 31,200 deficiencies during 19,474 inspections on U.S.- flagged vessels during 2021, an average increase of one identified deficiency per vessel from the previous year.
The Coast Guard’s 2021 Flag State Control Annual Report said that the 15 percent increase in deficiencies was seen in during a 6 percent increase in the total number of inspections logged in the Coast Guard’s Marine Information Safety and Law Enforcement database.
“The performance of the United States commercial vessel fleet is immensely important to preserving the safety and security of the United States Maritime Transportation System (MTS) that accounts for over $5.4 trillion of our Nation’s annual economic activity and supports over 30 million jobs,” Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy Rear Admiral John W. Mauger wrote at the beginning of the report. “The MTS is increasingly complex and three enduring drivers shape our operating environment: (1) increasing MTS capacity; (2) public demand for sustainability and environmental stewardship; and (3) the use of ever-more complex technologies and operating concepts to improve efficiencies and profitability.”
The average age of ships in the domestic fleet is 27 years old, with barges averaging 17 years of age, passenger vessels at 28 years old, cargo ships at 29 years, and research/school ships being the oldest with an average age of 35 years.
Passenger vessels accounted for 11,007 inspections and 20,545 discovered deficiencies, with towing vessels undergoing 3,336 inspections that revealed 5,871 deficiencies. Cargo ships were subjected to 1,107 inspections and 1,965 deficiencies were uncovered, while barges underwent 3,295 inspections resulting in 1,481 discovered deficiencies. Research vessels were subjected to 105 inspections but had the highest average of deficiencies per vessel at 4.74.
There were 1,880 reportable marine casualties — including collision, allision or grounding; material failure or malfunction; loss/reduction of vessel propulsion steering; or personal injury or death — reported in 2021 involving 2,196 inspected vessels. The highest personal casualty rate was for vessels conducting Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) activities, accounting for 31.6 percent of the category’s marine casualties, while 24 percent of passenger vessel casualties involved personal injury or death. Cargo ships’ greatest casualty was material failure or malfunction at 60.1 percent. Barges sustained collision, allision or grounding 55.6 percent of the time.
There were 71 flag state detentions in 2021, occurring when “technical or operational-related deficiencies exist that individually or collectively indicate a serious failure, or lack of effectiveness, of the implementation of the Safety Management System.” This most often happened due to a fire safety issue, followed by issues with propulsion and auxiliary machinery, life saving appliances, working and living conditions, or structural conditions.
Mauger lauded “the professionalism and innovative spirit of the maritime industry, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 global pandemic over the last two years.”
“As we look ahead to 2022, the U.S. Coast Guard is eager to continue our cooperation with the towing vessel industry to finalize inspection and certification of all towing vessels,” Mauger said. “We will also work to improve the safety standards for our small passenger vessel fleet through the continued use of our risk based inspections regime and the implementation of the interim rule published in December 2021 which adds additional fire safety requirements for certain small passenger vessels.”
During 2021, the report said, USCG staff members recorded over 290,000 interactions with the commercial fishing industry, with outreach efforts including dock walking, newsletters, social media, and official correspondence. The Coast Guard’s Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety (CFVS) National Communications Plan “promotes two-way communications, in efforts to develop mutual and professional relationships with a common goal of prevention and safety.”
While USCG only maintains records for fishing vessels that are enrolled in the decal examination program, the Coast Guard estimates that there are over 51,000 commercial fishing vessels in domestic service. Of the 7,460 exam deficiencies issued in 2021, 7,275 were for fish-catching vessels, 123 were for fishing tenders, and 62 were for fish-processing vessels.