Post SS El Faro Coast Guard Report Finds High Rate of “Deficiencies” on Cargo and Military Sea Lift Ships Inspected Under Privatized “ACP” Vessel System

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In the first annual report on the safety of America’s merchant fleet in the aftermath of the loss of the SS El Faro, the US Coast Guard reports a high rate of deficiencies on ships initially checked  by private safety inspectors under the Alternative Compliance Program.

“The Coast Guard conducted 1,459 inspections on ACP/MSP vessels in 2017, during which 1,168 deficiencies were identified at a ratio of 2.36 deficiencies per vessel,” the report states.

This means, Coast Guard safety experts say, that the Coast Guard re-inspected ships already inspected by a private contractor and found deficiencies that seemed to be missed by the contractors.  In most cases, the private contractor would be the American Bureau of Shipping or ABS.

The statistics apply to the 421 US flag cargo ships in the ACP and the Military Security Program (MSP) — a major part of America’s military sealift capacity.  The merchant vessels are a part of the “Jones Act Fleet” — ships that run between US ports and territories, many on the Alaska, Puerto Rico or Hawaii trade routes.

The average age of the American flag cargo ship fleet is now 28 years, the report states — eight years older than the normal scrapping age of a vessel.  The age of the military command ships and their readiness has been brought into question by hearings and audits.  Their average age is approaching 40-years — twice the regular scrapping age.

The Coast Guard document released Tuesday  — “Flag State Control in the United States — 2017 Domestic Annual Report” –is the first effort by the Coast Guard to make the safety inspection process and results more transparent.

It was called for in the wake of the loss of the SS El Faro in Hurricane Joaquin on October 1, 2015.  A Marine Board of Investigation concluded that a primary reason for the tragedy was the captain’s decision not to radically divert from the hurricane.

But the MBI also cited poor inspections under the ACP program — criticizing both the American Bureau of Shipping and the US Coast Guard for not tightly applying inspection standards.  Officers at the time of the hearings said more than 30% of inspections under the ACP program, most done by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), had serious deficiencies when checked by regular Coast Guard inspectors.

The 2017 report also said that cargo vessels showed the highest percentage rate of safety discrepancies. The report states:

“Of the 18,424 inspections conducted …  in 2017, (there were) 21,629 deficiencies …identified on the 12,189 active vessels in the US fleet of responsibility. Passenger vessels account for 81% of those deficiencies.

“However, based on the overall vessel population, Cargo vessels received a higher ratio of deficiencies per vessel, with an average of 5.17.”

The Coast Guard oversees inspections and inspection agencies for cargo ships, ferries, cruise ships, tankers, tow boats, off shore support vessels and such passenger recreational outing vessels as Ducks or DUKWS.

The most serious problems calling for a casualty investigation were concentrated in cargo ships, the report states:

“There were 685 reportable marine casualties reported in 2017, with the highest percentage involving Cargo vessels, at 46.9%.”

The Coast Guard chart below describes the type of casualty most likely by type of ship.

F I G U R E 1 0 | Top 3 Reportable Marine Casualties


Top 3 Reportable Marine Casualties




OCS (Offshore supply)


Allision 24.8%Grounding 19.8%Pollution 18.3%

Material Failure/ Malfunction 49.5%

Loss/Reduction of Propulsion/ Steering 26.2%

Loss of Electrical Power 9.3%

Material Failure/ Malfunction 23.5%

Loss/Reduction of Propulsion/ Steering 20.6%

Flooding 11.8%

Material Failure/ Malfunction 35.7%

Allision 17.9% Fire 10.7%

Loss/Reduction of Propulsion/ Steering 29.2%

Material Failure/ Malfunction 16.7%

Allision 16.7%

The Coast Guard will be incorporating new, stiffer inspection standards for its 2018 report for the calendar year.

The state of the MSC fleet has been cause for alarm among military strategists who say the fleet is so old and in such disrepair that the question of mobilization for a major conflict abroad has been brought into question.

Said a GAO report in 2017:

“The readiness of the surge sealift and combat logistics fleets has trended downward since 2012. For example, GAO found that mission-limiting equipment casualties—incidents of degraded or out-of-service equipment—have increased over the past 5 years, and maintenance periods are running longer than planned, indicating declining materiel readiness across both fleets.

“The average age of the ships in the surge sealift fleet is nearly 40 years,” the report continued,  “and the number of surge sealift ships reaching the end of their programmed service lives over the next 10 years will reduce sealift capacity by over 25 percent.”



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