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Conference Report on H.R. William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021

Floor Speech

Date: Dec. 8, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. YOUNG. Mr. Speaker, I rise to support William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. It is a fitting tribute to the years of dedication and work that Congressman Thornberry has done in this body and, in particular, on national security issues.

In particular, this legislation contains Section 3510 that addresses and corrects a regulatory mismatch of the manner in which a small passenger vessel that operates in Southeast Alaska is measured. Specifically, the M/V Liseron (United States official number 971339), a converted minesweeper that conducts overnight passenger cruises in the eco-tourism trade in Southeast Alaska, should be classified as having the same regulatory tonnage for licensing its crew as is used for its safety inspection category (i.e., 100 gross tons), and the other vessels in the same trade. For construction and safety, the vessel meets all Coast Guard standards. This section in essence aligns and makes licensing requirements consistent with all the other safety and inspection regulations that apply to the M/V Liseron as a small passenger vessel by deeming the M/V Liseron to be less than 100 gross tons for the purposes of licensing and credentialing subject to some conditions.

Operationally, the M/V Liseron has ten staterooms and is limited to about 20 passengers. More critically, the vessel is currently inspected by the Coast Guard as a small passenger vessel in the 100 gross regulatory tonnage category. Notwithstanding that, the vessel has a larger tonnage entered on its certificate of inspection due to the arcane nature of the U.S. vessel admeasurement laws, rules that govern the volumetric size of vessels. Larger competitor vessels can be nearly 100 feet longer and carry 5 times the number of passengers, yet they are considered to be in the smaller 100 GT small passenger vessel category for both licensing and inspection purposes.

Needless to say, the M/V Liseron suffers from the inequitable situation as the vessel must compete with similar or larger vessels in the eco-tourism trade that carry five times the number of passengers. While the vessel is inspected and regulated for all safety purposes in a lower tonnage category (i.e., 100 GT), due to the higher tonnage rating entered on its certificate of inspection, the M/V Liseron must source crew from seafarers with deep water credentials (i.e., 500 GT) rather than for the shallower and protected waters of Southeast Alaska. The inequity is underscored by the fact that the M/V Liseron physically can fit within the volumetric profile of its competitors, yet the rules say it should be assigned a measurement of being larger. This is a classic example of the matryoshka principle. Further, the vessel carries far fewer passengers than its competitors.

This legislation prohibits the M/V Liseron from undergoing any alteration of its size. It also limits the operation while carrying passenger to inland waters of the United States so it will not go on deep sea oceangoing cruises. Further the section permits 100 GT licensed crew members operate the vessel while allowing the Coast Guard to add additional credentials in a justifiable case if the experience and training of the individual warrant it. This does not mean additional credentials must be required or are warranted in every instance. My understanding is that the Coast Guard already has authority to do this in existing regulation so no rulemaking is required that would delay the implementation of this provision. If the master and first mate can hold 100 GT licenses it should result in less turnover and more appropriately experienced personnel that will ultimately contribute to even safer and more consistent operation of the vessel. Only two positions are affected by this legislation.

During the cruising season in Southeast Alaska this vessel brings significant job opportunities and needed economic activity in local businesses by the company and its customers. The vessel enables tourists from around the world to come and enjoy the fishing and unparalleled scenic and natural beauty that Alaska has to offer. This year the vessel suffered the economic impact of the cancellations due to the COVID-19. As a result, the M/V Liseron has lost an entire season of revenue due to cancellations. Continuing an artificial barrier such as having to hire crew in a mismatched licensing category will only add to the vessel's difficulties to recover from this economic loss when they are able to resume operations.

In summary, I urge all of my colleagues to join me to enact this legislation. By adjusting the tonnage rating for licensing the M/V Liseron's crew to be consistent with its safety inspection category, the M/V Liseron would be able to hire and retain more appropriate experienced crew familiar with Southeast Alaskan waterways and small passenger vessel operations.

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