Yesterday the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) published a new ruling on Jones Act compliance in the installation of offshore wind turbines.  While the ruling addresses and confirms several established compliance points in the rapidly developing U.S. wind market, CBP introduced a new wrinkle that will aid U.S. vessel owners.

First, the new development. 

On December 3, 2021, the Department of Justice published a notice in the Federal Register of a settlement between Federal and State Trustees and Kirby Inland Marine, LP (“Kirby”) to resolve natural resource damages from a 2014 oil release. On March 22, 2014, a bulk carrier collided with an oil tank barge owned by Kirby

On July 15, 2020, the Unites States Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) issued a ruling (HQ H309672) in connection with the installation of an offshore wind farm located off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts in U.S. territorial waters (the “July 15 Ruling”).  CBP determined that activities to be conducted in connection with the installation of offshore wind turbine generator (“WTG”) units using a non-coastwise-qualified jack up vessel (i.e., not a Jones Act compliant vessel) (the “Installation Vessel”) did not violate the Jones Act (46 U.S.C. § 55102) (or the Passenger Vessel Services Act (46 U.S.C. § 55103)).
Continue Reading U.S. Customs Revokes Recent Offshore Wind Ruling; Maintains Uncertainty Whether the Jones Act Applies to Wind Farm Installations on the OCS

In response to the continuing COVID-19 epidemic, the United States Coast Guard, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have issued a series of administrative guidelines or regulations broadly affecting international maritime commerce. In addition to this agency action, the AWO and other sectors of the maritime industry have voluntarily formulated several response plans aimed at protecting the nation’s vital maritime commerce during this public emergency. We have reviewed these guidelines and regulations, and have organized them into general topics of common questions in our industry.

Continue Reading Maritime Industry COVID 19 Update

In a stark reminder of the sanctity of Coast Guard investigations, and the consequences of impeding such investigations, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently took action against a maritime employer for allegedly retaliating against a seaman who cooperated with the Coast Guard in connection with its investigation of a maritime casualty.  On October 20, 2017, Bouchard Transportation’s ATB BUSTER BOUCHARD/B. NO. 255 suffered an explosion and fire while transporting roughly 2,000 barrels of oil off Port Aransas, Texas.  Two crewmembers perished as a result of the casualty.  The brother of one of the deceased crewmembers, who also happened to be a Bouchard Transportation employee, cooperated with the Coast Guard in the ensuing investigation.  Three months later, the surviving brother was terminated without explanation.  OSHA found the termination constituted a retaliatory discharge in violation of the Seaman’s Protection Act (46 U.S.C. §2114) (the “SPA”).  In broad terms, the SPA prohibits maritime employers from terminating or discriminating against seamen who cooperate with Coast Guard, Department of Labor or National Transportation Safety Board investigations.  The obvious intent of the SPA is to guaranty “that, when seamen provide information of dangerous situations to the Coast Guard, they will be free from the “debilitating threat of employment reprisals for publicly asserting company violations” of maritime statutes or regulations.”  Gaffney v. Riverboat Services of Indiana, Inc., 451 F.3d 424, 444 (7th Cir. 2006).  In 2010, Congress empowered OSHA to administer claims arising under the SPA.

Continue Reading OSHA Awards Damages for Retaliatory Discharge of Jones Act Seaman in Violation of Seaman’s Protection Act

The saga of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) ten-year effort to amend its interpretation of key components of the Jones Act continues.  After failed attempts to expand the scope of the Jones Act’s prohibition on activities by non-coastwise endorsed vessels in 2009 and 2017, CBP recently published a notice of proposed modification and revocation of certain ruling letters interpreting the Jones Act (see https://liskow.sharefile.com/d-s45a327d7ae7441e9). Unlike its recent, unsuccessful efforts to amend its interpretations, the current proposal attempts to expand one prohibition while narrowing another.

Continue Reading Possible Change to Jones Act Interpretations Regarding Coastwise Activities

Case:    United States v. American Commercial Lines, L.L.C., No. 16-31150, ___ F.3d ___ (5th Cir. 11/7/17).

Factual Background

In July of 2008, nearly 300,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Mississippi River in New Orleans when a tugboat towing an oil-filled barge veered across the river into the path of an ocean-going tanker.  American Commercial Lines (“ACL”) owned the tug MEL OLIVER, and bareboat chartered its tug to DRD Towing.  DRD then operated the MEL OLIVER under a time charter to ACL.  At the time of the collision, the MEL OLIVER, which was pushing ACL’s barge DM-932 fully laden with oil, was operating without a captain who had effectively abandoned the vessel several days earlier.  The Steersman left in charge was allegedly sound asleep at the wheel at the time of the collision as he had been working for nearly 36 straight hours.  The TINTOMARA, a tanker, collided with the DM-932, causing the barge to break away and ultimately sink in the Mississippi River resulting in the spill of approximately 300,000 gallons of oil into the River.  As owner of the leaking barge, ACL was deemed the responsible party under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (“OPA ’90”).
Continue Reading U.S. Fifth Circuit Affirms $20 Million Judgment Against Barge Owner as Responsible Party Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990