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"Common Sense" Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012

On December 20, 2012, President Obama signed into law the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012 (H.R. 2838). The Act went into effect on the first of this year. This bill reverses the previously proposed cuts to U.S. Coast Guard funding, site, and personnel and instead designates to the Coast Guard $8.6 billion for fiscal year 2013 and $8.7 billion for fiscal year 2014 for its service operations.

The Coast Guard operates under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security as well as the U.S. Navy. The job of the Coast Guard is to protect U.S. shores and to encourage and enforce maritime safety and commerce, and to help with maritime-related pollution control. Specific Coast Guard duties, to name a few, include identifying potential terrorist threats, interdicting drug and human traffickers, searching for and rescuing commercial and private vessel crews, investigating accidents, and conducting commercial fishing vessel safety inspections. They are invaluable when fishing vessel crews require aid; the U.S. Coast Guard also sponsors the globally used Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System (AMVER).

The funding authorized by the Act will enable the Coast Guard to upgrade and maintain their communication systems, aircraft, and vessels. This bill is also intended to reduce costs through Coast Guard administration reform. For example, starting in 2014, the Coast Guard will submit a biennial report detailing all major acquisitions and personnel assignments, which will include explanations regarding why the asset or personnel is required and how the acquisition meets the intended goals. Also, for any required materials or parts, the Coast Guard will "buy American" whenever possible.

With the high incidence, with no end in sight, of piracy affecting both international trade and personal excursions, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea, off eastern Africa, and in the Indian Ocean, the Act also authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to certify an anti-piracy training curriculum for U.S. mariners, and provides for the dissemination of information on high-risk areas, piracy patterns, and current threats. This curriculum is to be certified before the end of 2013.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program will also get a boost in its efforts to locate and address marine debris. Marine debris often poses a danger to navigation and to marine life. One of the missions is to identify which types of lost or discarded fishing gear pose the greatest hazard to navigation and to the environment, and then develop tracking and recovery methods, as well as develop gear which does not pose as high a risk, if lost. Part of their task will be to create non-regulatory guidelines and conduct educational outreaches in order to increase awareness about this dangerous problem, with the goal of prevention of such debris.

The Act also intends to reduce regulatory burdens on small businesses. For instance, the Secretary of Transportation has the authority to extend the duration of medical exam certificates for licensed mariners for up to a year, as well as to extend the deadlines for compliance with the new fishing vessel Coast Guard dockside exam regulations. The web site www.fishsafe.info will soon update information on the revised vessel exam regulations.

All of these and other measures set forth in the Act are intended to address myriad issues in a forthright and realistic manner, thus the "common sense" nickname.

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