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Coast Guard increasing tug inspections after offshore accident

New Orleans, Louisiana, residents may remember the devastating offshore accident between a towboat and an oil tanker in 2008 that resulted a spill of approximately 283,000 gallons of oil into the Mississippi River near their city. A large stretch of the river remained closed for six days as dozens of ships remained grounded.

To reduce the number of accidents in rivers and improve safety on harbors, the Coast Guard is stepping up inspections of towboats and tugboats. So far, 2,887 towing vessels have been inspected in the district that includes Louisiana. The next round of inspections, set to begin in the summer, will include the rest of the vessels in the district.

Around 900 vessels have yet to be inspected. The Coast Guard says its goal is to inspect all towing vessels in the district.

To improve their tug inspection program and enforce safety standards strictly, the Coast Guard put together regulations after the 2008 accident. Their initiative was dubbed the Big Tow Operation. In addition to this, newer batches of field inspectors were coached specifically on tug inspections.

Previous towing vessels did not always undergo Coast Guard inspection, leading to lax compliance with safety standards, now companies are spending more money and effort to meet the necessary requirements. Contrary to expectations, the new regulations have not driven companies out of business, according to a Louisiana-based industry journal's senior editor. Rather, people are complying happily.

However, those New Orleans offshore workers who have sustained injuries working on unsafe vessels should consider consulting an attorney experienced in admiralty law to discuss their options for legal recourse.

Source: Associated Press, "Coast Guard steps up inspection of towboats," Cain Burdeau, May 9, 2012

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