USCG: "Significant Increase" in Detentions During Port State Inspections

safety inspection
USCG inspectors conducted nearly 8,300 SOLAS safety exams in 2023 (file photo)

Published Apr 2, 2024 6:59 PM by The Maritime Executive


The issues of the safety of shipping and the efforts by Port States to inspect ships to enforce regulations continue to swirl in the wake of the Dali’s allision with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore which sent shockwaves through the shipping industry. The U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance released its yearly statistics today shedding light on the level of inspections and their results.

In addition to the enforcement as a Flag State, regulators have the authority under international conventions to conduct Port State inspections which also look at the safety and compliance of vessels with rules ranging from SOLAS to MARPOL, certificates, and other areas relating to everything from fire safety, safety management, life saving systems, maintenance, and certificates. Ships found to not meet the rules can be cited for deficiencies or in the most serious cases will also be detained until the issues are corrected.

During the pandemic, USCG reports there was in general a decrease in examinations in both 2020 and 2021. They also cited issues ranging from travel difficulties, and delays or deferred maintenance while reporting that the detention ratio increased significantly from 2022 to 2023. A total of 10,959 vessels from 80 different countries visited U.S. ports in 2023 with the USCG conducting nearly 82,000 ship visits.

The U.S. Coast Guard Port State Control program conducted Port State safety examinations on about 10 percent of the ship visits or a total of 8,278 SOLAS safety exams. The detention ratio increased from .89 percent in 2022 to 1.22 percent in 2023. A total of 101 vessels were detained for violations last year versus 78 in 2022.

“The increased detention ratio reflects a global trend that has been noted by other Port State Control regimes,” writes Rear Admiral Wayne Arguin in the 2023 report. “It is a possible indicator of long-term impacts of COVID-19,” he speculates noting the declines in PSC inspections as well as the challenges for shipping lines during the pandemic. 

While the year-over-year increase is significant in the detention ratios, it is only slightly higher than the 2018 and 2019 levels. The peak was in 2015 when the ratio reached 2.17 percent. This year’s three-year average is also up to .94 percent but that is below the previous three-year averages before the pandemic. He also notes that there is a dedicated effort by many flag states to reverse the trends through the implementation of programs to manage risk, increase oversight, and ensure compliance with international conventions.

The largest number of inspections in the U.S. take place in the Houston/Galveston, Texas area, followed by New Orleans and New York. However, the number of detentions is highest in Miami (22) followed by New York (13) while in the Houston/Galveston area, they recorded only four detentions in 2023 while they conducted 1,144 safety examinations.

Fire Safety and Safety Management accounted for the majority of the detention orders followed by Life Saving Systems. Fire safety measures overall accounted for nearly a third of all the deficiencies recorded during the inspections. However, they note that the number of detentions related to fire safety and lifesaving systems decreased in 2023 over the prior year. 

The USCG also starting in 2021 initiated the Enhanced Exam Program which each quarter selects issues for in-depth inspections. In 2023, they focused on cybersecurity, voyage data recorders, fire dampers, and additional liferaft arrangements. For the second year, they report this resulted in a twofold increase in the number of deficiencies with the trend seen in cybersecurity, fire dampers, and additional liferaft arrangements.