Massachusetts Legislative Update: Senator Jarrett T. Barrios Pushes Forward on Controversial Bill (

At a hastily convened public hearing on June 20, testimony from a wide range of stakeholders was heard regarding the latest bill to be pushed forward by a coalition hoping to get Boston’s docking masters certified by the state. The bill, S1349, entitled, “An Act Relative to Port Security,” calls for the certification of docking pilots and proposes changes to the way that mariners charged with public safety in Boston Harbor are selected and regulated. On Wednesday of last week, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Pilot Commission, Charles Licatta, testified in support of the bill.

With Senator Barrios leaving office abruptly for the private sector on July 5, the quick public hearing was perhaps not unexpected, but is also not expected to advance the bill any faster through the system. A spokeswoman for Senator Barrios told MarEx on Tuesday, “The current legislative session runs until January 2, 2009. Where the bill goes from here isn’t certain, but co-sponsor Senator Tarr is very much behind the bill.” The message here was that even though Barrios was going away, the bill would remain very much in play. Barrios’ spokeswoman also said that the bill was “still in committee, awaiting a report.”

Massachusetts State Senators Jarret Barrios and Bruce Tarr have previously announced that the bill is “an important piece of legislation regarding Massachusetts port safety.” Beyond this, Barrios and Tarr also said in January that S1349 “will help make Massachusetts harbors safer places for the citizens of the Commonwealth.” Key facets of the bill would have the local Pilots Commission, the Captain of the Port of Boston and operators of harbor equipment “formulate regulations to be followed in Massachusetts ports.”

The proposed bill also revisits the already divisive issue of docking pilots and their eventual certification in Boston harbor. Talks between several interested parties who have been discussing the merits of certifying these docking pilots, and under what conditions that could happen, have stalled. Massachusetts already stipulates a fee of $350 for each and every docking performed by Boston’s harbor pilots. Privately employed docking masters are also performing this service, sometimes at far greater costs, and at least one tug company in the harbor refuses to allow anyone but their employees to act as docking master on a ship movement which employs their marine equipment.

Barrios has previously rolled out the legislation under the guise of preventing a repeat of the recent maritime pollution incidents in Massachusetts waters. On the premise of preventing similar accidents, the senator said, “Hazardous material regulations must be adopted by the State. This will help ensure the safety of the crew of the vessels and the cleanliness of Massachusetts environment.” Whether or not the proposed bill would achieve that goal is not yet clear. A similar previous bill, SB 1330, introduced in 2005, has languished as the debate continues.

Shippers and marine transportation executives are watching the situation closely, as last year’s turf war threatens to heat up again. The proposed bill specifically forbids the District One Pilot commissioners from exercising control over rates or contractual relationships between docking masters and shipping or tug companies. If enacted as proposed, the bill could also affect the ability of local harbor pilots to perform docking maneuvers -- something they already do with competence -- and would almost certainly increase docking costs for shippers.

More than a year after the contentious Senate Bill 1330 was introduced and died a slow death “in study,” supporters of docking master certification in Boston Harbor are pushing forward an even more aggressive bill, one which will ultimately certify docking masters who will be unshackled by the regulatory oversight enforced on the existing licensed Boston Harbor pilots. At this time, docking masters are not required by law for deep draft vessels in Boston Harbor, but Boston Towing & Transportation requires the use of one of its employees as a docking master on every job that involves its tug-assist equipment. In contrast, its primary competition in the harbor, Constellation Towing -- a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Foss Maritime Group -- does not impose such rules. When a docking master is not employed, the Boston Harbor pilot performs this task.

In the past, Boston Towing & Transportation enjoyed a virtual monopoly on ship-assist services in the harbor on the basis of offering a larger and more modern tug fleet. No more. Constellation’s absorption into the powerful Foss organization has meant an infusion of capital and modern ship-assist assets into Boston Harbor. With Constellation now offering the most advanced ship-assist platform in the harbor in the form of their next-generation tugboat LEO and another tractor tug, the playing field has leveled measurably. And with customers now able to choose their tug-assist provider on the basis of price and not just quality of equipment, the passage of Senate Bill 1349 looms large in the future of Boston Harbor. For this reason, it is clear that 1349 has little to do with safety, and everything to do with business.

To date, there is no hard evidence that harbor safety is negatively affected by the absence of a docking master on any assignment. The Boston Pilots perform hundreds of these docking and undocking maneuvers annually. And certifying docking masters in a manner which circumvents an existing regulatory and oversight vehicle which has worked -- and worked well -- for generations, makes little sense.

If docking masters are truly necessary in Boston Harbor, then they should be licensed, regulated and controlled in a manner consistent with the system now in place for existing harbor pilots. This does not include allowing those persons to be licensed by the State in a (monopolistic) public safety role and then allow them to enjoy unsupervised private business relationships, charging rates without limits on the commerce which will be required by law to use these services. If Senate Bill 1349 is passed as proposed, one can only imagine what will come next. Just picture it: Massachusetts State Police employed by private corporations and charging unregulated fees to the very general population they serve. Unlikely? Hardly. This is, after all, Massachusetts.
 

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Managing Editor Joseph Keefe spent the first 21 years of his life in the Commonwealth. He will be on vacation for the next edition of the MarEx e-newsletter. He can be reached at jkeefe@maritime-executive.com with comments and/or input. All e-mail will be answered upon his return in July.