Recently, the captain of a foreign-flagged vessel over 300gt posted in Dockwalk.com’s General Discussion forum regarding a $4,000 citation he received after moving the boat from Martha’s Vineyard to Sag Harbor, Long Island, without filing a Notice of Arrival (NOA) between sectors. The captain asked, “Who is responsible for paying the fine? I know my owner is not going to, so can the Coast Guard come after me?”
His question received an array of answers; some who posted were certain that the boat ultimately would have to pay and others believed that it’s the captain’s responsibility. In order to find out the official answer, we contacted Michael Lingaits, the U.S. Coast Guard Chief of the Inspection Division for Sector Miami, and his answer was…“It depends.”
Now before you slam your hands down on your laptop in frustration, Lingaits explained that it depends on how the notice is written. “A master, agent or owner can file a Notice of Arrival. Since the filing policy varies from vessel to vessel, citations are written on a case-by-case basis and can be levied on either the captain, the owner or the agent.”
According the Lingaits, the officer who writes the citation will levy the fine on the party most likely to affect compliance, which he admits is a subjective decision made by the individual Coast Guard officer. “The owner hires the master and can fire him if he is not doing his job properly, but the master is in charge,” he says. “A Coast Guard officer can write the citation to either party.” Lingaits advises that the captain carefully read the citation in order to determine who is being held accountable for the fine.
We asked Lingaits if there was anything that could be done in the case of the captain facing the $4,000 citation. “Absolutely,” he says, “but it will depend whom the citation is against and their history. If this is a first-time offence, then the captain should file an appeal. The first step is to admit to the violation and make it clear that you have learned from your mistake...in this case it was failure to file a NOA when moving from Sector Boston to Sector Long Island.”
In his post, the captain said, “I thought that a NOA was required when arriving from foreign to U.S., but not U.S. to U.S., and before this I never filed a NOA when arriving in ports such as NY or Boston with no trouble.”
“This is not a good excuse,” Customs broker Steele Reeder says. “Because you have not been cited before, it’s no less an infraction. In fact, trying to make that argument might compound your problem.”
When appealing a Coast Guard fine, Lingaits says, “It will go a long way to show that you are actively trying to educate both yourself and others through your own example. If the fine is the captain’s and he has a good history, he can ask for a reduced fine or even request a letter of warning. The Coast Guard is not in the business of collecting fines. Especially in this economy, we want to see mariners working and earning money, but they need to comply with the rules.”