Coronavirus (COVID-19)

MTS workers continue to fulfill critical role during COVID-19 pandemic

From RDML Richard V. Timme, USCG
Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy

photo of rear admiral Timme

To the men and women who have dedicated their time, energy and resolve to ensure the continued operation of this nation’s maritime transportation system (MTS), thank you.  The importance of the jobs you perform cannot be understated, nor can the hardships you have endured over the course of the past year.  

During this pandemic, you have played a critical role in our Nation’s international and domestic supply chain to support the distribution of vitally important personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other urgent medical supplies, as well as maintaining U.S. national security sealift requirements.  Under dire circumstances you have selflessly continued to serve, delivering food and supplies essential to every American. 

As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic the nation and the world continue to be tested by personal and professional challenges.  These seemingly unsurmountable challenges have strained, stressed and tested everyone.  Yet, people in every industry continue to persevere, especially those of you in the maritime profession. 

Maintaining the function of the MTS is no small feat.  Its integrated and dynamic network of coastal and inland waters and rivers span more than 25,000 miles, it serves 361 ports, supports $5.4 trillion of economic activity each year and accounts for the employment of more than 30 million Americans.  It is a lifeblood of the global economy, and critical to U.S. national interests.  The MTS connects America’s consumers, producers, manufacturers, and farmers to domestic and global markets.  It also enables critical national security sealift capabilities, supporting the U.S. Armed Forces’ logistical requirements around the globe.  Any significant disruption to the MTS, whether natural or man-made, has the potential to cause cascading and devastating impacts to our domestic and global supply chain and, consequently, America’s economy and national security.  

You make up the crucial workforce that keeps it all running.  U.S. mariners ensure ships and cargos move safely and freely to keep our families fed, our cars moving and our store shelves stocked.  The stevedores, longshoremen, truck drivers, warehouse staff, port operators, agents, and a host of other professionals are at the forefront of a supply chain that enables our way of life.  Ensuring the safety of this workforce means ensuring the safety of our essential critical infrastructure.  

The Coast Guard is committed to the safety of tens of thousands of U.S. mariners, millions of travelers who ride ferries and passenger vessels each day, and tens of millions of recreational boaters. 

To that end, the U.S. Coast Guard Prevention Program seeks to collaboratively address the risk in the MTS wherever it may affect the safety, security, or environment health of our waterways.  The risk picture in this pandemic has required everyone to make adjustments in support of public health policy designed to slow the spread of the disease and minimize the damage it can do. 

The threat posed by COVID-19 to the MTS and our Nation’s interests has been met with the same rigor and principles the Coast Guard has when responding to any disaster that puts our Nation at risk.  For more than a year, the maritime critical workforce has executed a herculean effort to keep the MTS up and running, keep goods such as food, clothing, and basic essentials in grocery stores throughout the country. 

In the first weeks of the pandemic the Coast Guard implemented a proactive posture to protect the public, the essential workers of the MTS, and the MTS itself from the impact posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Today, the Coast Guard along with the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and other government agencies through the U.S. Committee on the Maritime Transportation System (CMTS) are working to implement coordinated interagency public health and safety actions.  

The CMTS was chartered to promote integration with other modes of transportation, and improve interagency coordination.  This group of maritime professionals created a COVID-19 Working Group within the CMTS to establish as a whole-of-government approach to pandemic issues, and to facilitate high-level interagency discussion, communication, and actions to help the maritime community implement measures to combat COVID-19 in the MTS. 

These efforts include participation in industry outreach sessions to understand their concerns and challenges.  Coast Guard Captains of the Port have been best positioned to conduct field level outreach with industry and union representatives on potential impediments to meeting any orders issued related to pandemic restrictions. 

The Coast Guard recognizes the vital importance of mariners and port workers, and considers their safety and mental health a top priority to keeping the MTS and the U.S. economy open.  The Coast Guard and its partner agencies remain focused and committed to addressing the unique challenges facing all those who work in the maritime transportation industry.  

To date, the Coast Guard has issued 13 Marine Information Safety Bulletins (MSIB) that seek to mitigate risk via policies that;

  • Minimize exposure of the maritime critical workforce by extending mariner credentials, licensing, medical certificates, and Transportation Worker Information Credentials and facilitate the continued employment of mariners without visits to overwhelmed medical facilities, training or exam centers;
  • Minimize interaction of mariners/port workers by implementing risk-based guidance to port and facility operators, foreign vessel operators, and domestic vessel masters on remote inspection and validation options as well as social distancing and public health and safety requirements to facilitate mandatory Coast Guard inspections;
  • Reduce Coast Guard interface with MTS workers by using risk-based guidance allowing for the extension of certificates of inspection or internationally issued statutory certificates that would allow the vessel to operate after the certificates expiration; and
  • Minimize disease transmission by highlighting the requirement for reporting hazardous conditions on board to include persons with COVID like symptoms. 

The Coast Guard continues to publish guidance via MSIB as new and updated information becomes available to ensure the maritime industry has the most up to date information.  All published MSIBs can be found here.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official publications, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These publications remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

Categories: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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