Welcome to the USGLSA Website

Welcome to the web site of the United States Great Lakes Shipping Association. I hope you will find this to be a source of information about our organization as well as have it serve as a useful informational tool for our membership and other interested parties.

Comments from the Executive Director

USGLSA Honors 60 Years of Service in the U.S. Lakes Industry

The year 2016 marks the 60th year of continuous activity by USGLSA and its U.S.Lakes agent members serving the needs and interests of vessel owners, operators and related matters pertaining to the international vessel trades conducted on the U.S. Great Lakes. Please go to the “Items of Interest” tab on this page to view a brief History of USGLSA, the people who contributed to its success and related information.

Comments Third Quarter, 2016

In the past several months since the latest edition of these Comments, international flag vessel operations, which are the focus of USGLSA Member-agents’ efforts, have been conducted on the Lakes and in the Seaway System generally as forecasted. For USGLSA agents, vessel calls serviced have been at or have exceeded anticipated levels in some locations. As to regulatory matters affecting these operations, the story has been more mixed.

Pilotage Rate Update

In those prior Comments regarding pilotage rates, I reported on the matter of the United States Coast Guard Final Rule covering 2016 U.S. Lakes Pilotage Rates which was implemented. I discussed the subsequent legal challenge to that Coast Guard action in U.S. Federal Court which a large group of affected vessel operators and related associations (including USGLSA) had filed. The substance of the claim filed on May 31, 2016, was that despite efforts of industry to promote alternatives, USCG had implemented unconscionable rates which were grossly unsupported by facts and thus, as alleged, a violation of administrative law standards warranting a rejection of such rates. Since that time, the matter has proceeded and has been marked by the Lakes Pilots Associations intervening and joining in the litigation process. To date, a Judge has been assigned to the case, preliminary documents and motions have been filed, but it remains unclear when the matter will be decided.

In the meantime, on October 19, 2016, the Coast Guard Lakes Pilotage Office filed in the Federal Register, a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) covering 2017 Rates targeted to become effective for the Navigation Season beginning March 1, 2017. The full text of the NPRM can be found in the Federal Register Volume 81, No 202, beginning at page 72011 (October 19, 2016). This new NPRM proposes pilotage rates which are even higher than the currently contested 2016 levels. While this new NPRM reflects some modest attempts to improve explanations, the troubling characteristics and lack of necessary support which is being contested in the litigation still remain, and along with some newly packaged costly features, collectively still demonstrate that this process remains seriously flawed and unreasonably burdensome. Comments on the new NPRM are due on or before December 19, 2016. It is expected that vessel operators affected and other stakeholders, either individually or through coalitions, will respond to these regrettable increases which can only have more negative effects on the future of Great Lakes international vessel trades which are already challenged by increased cost pressures from pilotage in particular, but more broadly, price competition from other modes and alternative routing of the business.

In the Great Lakes Pilotage Act of 1960, as amended, which establishes the foundation for this entire process, it provides, in part, that the Director of Homeland Security (which includes and has designated USCG) is directed to “prescribe by regulation rates and charges for pilotage services, giving consideration to the public interest and costs of providing the services.” Regrettably, while USCG often and quite properly defines its ratemaking activities in the context of its mission of assuring safe and efficient pilotage services, the above quoted language of the empowering law which is an important balancing factor in establishing the rates is ignored.

Moreover, it is extremely disappointing that we again see continuance of the mechanics of a rate making process which, in the current iteration, still takes 22 single spaced, triple columned Federal Register pages, containing 45 detailed schedules to reach a result covering the compensation and activities of all of 50 or fewer mariners who constitute the entire number of pilots to which this NPRM applies.

Truly, this is a process which is broken and only becoming more damaging. The needed reform does not require tweaks, but rather a complete reassessment, overhaul and simplification, so that rates and process guidelines can be promulgated which are more streamlined and also address “the public interest and cost of providing the service” as required by law. There may indeed be administrative and legislative hurdles which may hinder the ability to achieve reform, but currently those impediments, in large measure, seem to be hidden behind and used as excuses to avoid facing the harder challenge directly. With the greatest personal respect and admiration for the missions which our USCG successfully carry out and for the difficult and professional work the pilots perform, if USCG is unwilling or unable to internally address this mess aggressively, it is suggested that DOT, Homeland Security and/or legislative oversight sources which can make a difference should mobilize. All of the parties affected by the current process should join together to support that suggestion.

Ballast Water Developments

With the recent formal acceptance by Finland, the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, more commonly (and more easily) referred to as the IMO BWM Convention, will come into effect September 8, 2017. The BWM Convention was initially adopted in 2004, and it has taken since then to obtain the requisite number of countries and tonnage to meet the threshold for a formal adoption.

It is well known that the United States has not adopted the BWM Convention and that U.S. standards are generally viewed as more stringent. U. S. Coast Guard has issued notifications confirming that ships operating in U.S. waters including the Great Lakes, must continue to comply with existing U.S. laws and regulations. Coast Guard continues in its regime of applying type approval guidelines for the manufacture and installation of compliance ballast water treatment equipment. However, with the IMO standards in effect, the matter of harmonization with U.S. standards will bear watching.

In a related matter, EPA and Coast Guard both have previously adopted ballast water management requirements. The situation has created an unfortunate overlap which is further compounded by regulatory steps taken by some U.S. States which have created their own standards. Efforts continue to pass and have signed into law the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA) which would give USCG sole jurisdiction over ballast water management. USGLSA continues to support VIDA and has recently participated in petition signing urging its passage. Time is getting short.

Comments are invited. More to come.

Questions and comments are always welcome.


Stuart H. Theis, Executive Director
United States Great Lakes Shipping Association
Cleveland, Ohio
440/357-9104 (Phone)
440/357-9105 (Fax)
Exec.Director@usglsa.org (e-mail)
www.usglsa.org (web)

Reference Links

Stuart Theis

Mr. Theis, who has served as Executive Director since April 2007, is an attorney and businessman with prior associations at Cleveland, Ohio based M. A. Hanna Company and Oglebay Norton Company. At Hanna, he held a variety of legal/operational positions including Corporate Vice President with responsibilities for Hanna's Great Lakes/St Lawrence Seaway and Ocean Marine vessel and dock operations in the U. S. and Canada. While at Oglebay Norton, Mr. Theis served as President of the Company's Great Lakes fleet and dock operations. Mr. Theis is a member of the American Bureau of Shipping and has recently served as a member on two U. S. Coast Guard Advisory Committees, the Great Lakes Pilotage Advisory Committee and the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee.