OFFSHORE MARINE SERVICE ASSOCIATION
990 N. Corporate Drive, Suite 210 Harahan, LA 70123 Telephone (504) 734-7622 Fax (504) 734-7134
Mr. Paul Beatty
Office of Technical and Information Services
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F. Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004
RE: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Accessibility Guidelines for Passenger Vessels
Large Vessels (Docket No. 2004-1) and Small Vessels (Docket No. 2004-2)
The Offshore Marine Service Association (OMSA) is the national trade association representing the owners and operators of vessels working in America’s offshore oil and gas industry. The transportation services provided by OMSA’s members are a vital lifeline to a key component of our country’s energy supply.
We appreciate your giving us the opportunity to comment on the accessibility guidelines for passenger vessels. As we have researched the rulemaking process and the issues that it encompasses, we have gained an appreciation for the valuable job that the Access Board does in bringing clarity to the questions surrounding handicapped access. However, we are concerned that the new proposals have the potential to bring uncertainty and confusion to the operators of industrial vessels which carry persons beyond the normal crew complement. We urge the Access Board to clearly define that its recommendations apply to passengers who are members of the general public and not industrial workers who either are transported to and from their worksite or perform their jobs on board the vessel.
A little bit of background on our industry may be helpful. Crewboats fall under the Coast Guard’s Subchapter T regulations. They commonly carry people who are employed in the energy sector to and from offshore oil and gas facilities. They are contracted with and chartered by companies that are involved in exploring, developing or producing energy in offshore waters. Generally, the workers who are transported by vessel are directed by their employers to board the vessel at a shoreside dock and are brought to an offshore facility. By law, they are considered “industrial workers” rather than passengers.
The offshore environment can be a harsh and challenging one. The vessels frequently operate in rough seas. For example, the vessels are used to evacuate rig workers in the face of an impending hurricane. The offshore facilities themselves present a number of challenges including safety concerns, space considerations and general access limitations. Under a common scenario, the crewboat might arrive at an offshore facility in a 10-foot sea state. The boat would not moor itself to the facility to offload passengers, but would instead hold its position while workers go on board the facility. This may involve hanging onto a personnel basket which is lifted by crane or swinging onto the facility through the use of a swing rope. It should be noted that once onboard the facility, the job function requirements of working in this environment would preclude employees with limited mobility. In other words, access standards for the vessel would not solve the inherent safety and logistical concern that exist in boarding or working at the facility.
All of this argues that a “general public” transportation standard should not be applied to these offshore industrial vessels. It is analogous to the regulations governing public versus private facilities. In that instance, the federal government recognized that private facilities only fell under Title II of the ADA when they offered “places of public accommodation.” In the case of industrial-use vessels, they do not have “places of public accommodation” and therefore, under the rational used with private facilities, they should not be included in the current rulemaking.
We respect the Access Board’s desire and commitment to come up with guidelines that are fair and based on commonsense. We do not believe that the Board would intend for its passenger vessel standards to apply to vessels that do not carry members of the general public. Our concern is that, lacking clarification, others may use the guidelines that emerge from this process to incorrectly apply standards to our sector.
Consequently, we urge the Access Board to clearly state that its guidelines do not apply to vessels engaged in support of the offshore oil and gas industry. If the Board believes that industrial vessels should be included in the rulemaking, we request that our fleet be made a part of the regulatory assessment. One factor that should be made a part of that analysis is that crewboats are kept below 100 gross tons (the regulatory maximum for vessels under Subchapter T) through a complex series of design approaches. Changes required under access guidelines could potentially force them above the 100 ton breakpoint, forcing the vessels into an entirely new regulatory regime, requiring additional crew, a higher level of licensing and additional design requirements that could dramatically increase the cost of new vessels. We believe that inclusion of industrial vessels would produce a vastly different set of economic consideration from those that have currently been in use.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to comment on this rulemaking process.