DUTCH HARBOR (AP) -- The foreign-owned tramper fleet carrying cargo between North America and Asia has drastically improved its safety record in recent years, Coast Guard inspectors say.
The foreign-owned cargo ships routinely are faulted for poor maintenance, unsafe working conditions, fuel leaks and even occasional groundings. But inspectors and vessel owners say the fleet is safer today.
Since December, the Coast Guard has not detained a single tramper in Dutch Harbor. That is a stark contrast to 1999, when nine vessels were detained for safety problems in a six-month span.
The difference is that vessel owners are taking a more serious approach to safety and maintenance issues, inspectors say.
''Things have gotten a lot better,'' said Rick Kniaziowski, who manages North Star Maritime Agencies, which serves the tramper fleet. ''I think you'll find the vessels here are safer than in any part of the world.''
Chief Warrant Officer Al Jackson, a U.S. Coast Guard inspector, points to his inspection of the tramper vessel Jacha last Wednesday. His inspection of the Korean-owned vessel found only a pair of doors that did not seal or open properly.
When he inspected the ship last July, he found 27 violations, including engines clogged with oily rags, buckets of paint thinner sitting next to exposed wiring, inept fire drill procedures, and numerous leaks throughout the ship. Of the 27 problems, Jackson said 12 were serious enough that they required a mandatory detention of the ship.
At its next inspection in O13 violations and was detained again. But since then, the vessel has become a model for improvement in the fleet. The last two inspections have resulted in a total of only five minor violations.
The Jacha is part of the Boyang fleet, which has been flagged by the Coast Guard for having poorly-maintained ships. To improve inspections, Boyang stationed an employee in Dutch Harbor for four months earlier this year to act as a liason between incoming vessels and the Coast Guard.
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