U. S. Coast Guard issued the final rule on "Fire Protection Measures for Towing Vessels" [USCG 1998-4445]. The purpose of the rule is to fine tune fire protection measures for towing vessels implemented by an interim rule published on October 19, 1999. The changes included in the final rule are the result of public comments received after the interim rules were published last year.
The changes clarify the requirements for fuel shut-off valves, fuel-tank vents, design of fire-detection systems for engine rooms, and safety orientations. These measures should decrease the number and severity of injuries to crews, prevent damage to vessels, structures and other property, and protect the environment. This final rule is effective on September 27, 2000, but owners of towing vessels have until October 8, 2001, to install the required equipment.
These new fire safety rules stem from the January 19, 1996, incident off the coast of Rhode Island when the tugboat SCANDIA, with the tank barge NORTH CAPE in tow, caught fire five miles off the coast of Rhode Island. Crewmembers could not control the fire and, without power, they were unable to prevent the barge carrying 4 million gallons of oil from grounding and spilling about a quarter of its contents into the coastal waters.