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Safer Seas Act and SASH: Enhancing Compliance for US Ship Owners and Operators

Post updated with new regulation details in November, 2023.

The Safer Seas Act is new maritime law in the United States that aims to make the industry safer for all on board. The law was passed in 2022 and specifically implements important protections and enacts new requirements for the US Coast Guard and ship owners to combat SASH – Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment – at sea.

But what impact does this new law have on ship owners and operators for US-flagged ships? 

In this article, we’ll look at what the Safer Seas Act and EMBARC program entails in detail, how you can comply, deadlines for compliance, and how AI-powered maritime CCTV helps create a safer work environment while avoiding costly fines. 

What is the Safer Seas Act? 

The Safer Seas Act aims to combat SASH in the maritime industry. It penalizes companies and bystanders that don’t report these kinds of crimes, and requires ship owners to implement more processes and technology to help protect victims while preventing sexual violence on ships. 

According to J. Ryan Melogy, Maritime Attorney, the Senate and House versions of the bills are, “as much about holding the US Coast Guard accountable for doing their job to protect mariners at sea as they are about holding predators and shipping companies accountable.”

Congressman Peter DeFazio first introduced The Safer Seas Act in the House of Representatives at the end of February 2022. It was passed by Congress and signed into law in December 2022 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023.

When introducing the bill, DeFazio said

“We are taking a critical step toward eliminating sexual violence in the maritime industry. With this legislation, we can help fight assault and harassment in maritime transportation through penalties for perpetrators, new requirements for vessel owners, expanded legal recourse for victims, and a myriad of policies to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the first place.”

The Safer Seas Act aims to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment (SASH) in the maritime industry through the EMBARC program – Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture. The main points of the legislation are as follows:

  1. Requires the US Coast Guard to revoke or suspend a license, certificate of registry, or merchant mariner’s document to an individual who has been convicted of sexual assault within the previous 10 years and to revoke or suspend such credentials to an individual who has been convicted of sexual harassment within the previous 5 years
  2. Provides protection of seaman against discrimination for those who report or intend to report sexual assault or sexual harassment incidents
  3. Directs the Coast Guard to promulgate regulations related to possession and consumption of alcohol by crewmembers aboard documented vessels
  4. Requires non-passenger carrying, ocean-going, commercial vessels to install and maintain a video surveillance system with audio capability in areas adjacent to bedrooms and limit access to the surveillance to law enforcement officials and victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment
  5. Creates new reporting mandates and procedures for crew and vessel owners to report sexual assault or sexual harassment.

So far, the Safer Seas Act has had a widely positive reception in the industry. Greg Regan, president of Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, said,  “We applaud the efforts of the Committee to work with maritime labor and the industry to create meaningful reforms that will ensure safe and equitable workplaces for mariners now and in the future.” 

How Can You Comply With the Safer Seas Act? 

Prior to this legislation, ship owners and managers in charge of US-flagged vessels were required to report certain complaints of criminal sexual abuse offenses to the Coast Guard. According to legal experts, this “was limited to a certain class of sexual abuse crimes that occurred within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States”.

With the new legislation, ship owners and managers must immediately report all cases that break the law or breach company policy, which widens the scope of incidents considerably. The report must include information, such as the time and date of the incident, the name and official number of the documented vessel, and the geographic position or location of the vessel when the incident occurred. 

Vessel owners then have a further 10 days to create a more detailed report and send it to the Coast Guard. The civil penalties for not reporting incidents to the Coast Guard have risen from $5000 to $50,000 per case, which makes non-compliance a major financial risk. 

The compliance deadlines vary per requirement. Ship owners and managers have until the end of 2024 (2 years after the enactment of the Safer Seas Act) to install video and audio equipment. The deadline for alcohol regulation compliance is the end of 2023. 

In November of 2023, the Coast Guard released a more detailed list of requirements, including:

  • Surveillance equipment is required to be installed no later than December 23, 2024, or during the next scheduled drydock, whichever date is later.
  • Recordings must be continuous and uninterrupted – significantly this means no motion-activated cameras.
  • Video capturing equipment should be of sufficient resolution, frame rate, and sensor and lens quality to identify persons and their actions under all ambient lighting conditions.
  • Video cameras should be installed so that no area requiring coverage is obstructed from view.
  • Where obstructions exist, additional cameras should be installed to ensure comprehensive coverage, meaning there must be sufficient cameras to continually monitor every stateroom door onboard.
  • Audio recording equipment should be of sufficient sample rate, bit depth, and microphone quality to ensure reasonable discernment of conversations and words spoken in all foreseeable ambient noise conditions and from anywhere within the areas requiring coverage.
  • Where needed, owners should consider noise-canceling microphone technology.
  • The video and audio surveillance recordings must be retained for at least one year if no incident is reported and for five years if an incident is reported.
  • Recordings must have accurate time synchronization, timestamping, and metadata to ensure all retained information can be accurately associated with the date, time, and location of a particular recording.
  • Recordings may be kept physically onboard or in the owner’s office or may be stored in a cloud-based service if the metadata is maintained.
  • Video and audio surveillance equipment must be placed in passageways into which doors from staterooms open. Such equipment must be placed in a location and position, or multiple locations and positions, that can continually view every door in each such passageway.

Ensure Compliance With AI-Powered Maritime CCTV 

Let’s think about point four of the legislation in more detail. Vessel owners must maintain a video surveillance system with audio capability in areas adjacent to bedrooms. They have to retain footage for at least a year, or five years when the footage is associated with an incident. 

Many shipowners and managers have already at least considered ⁠— if not already installed ⁠— onboard maritime CCTV cameras for post-mortem safety and security reviews. But, while maritime CCTV has become increasingly common onboard ships to provide a documented record of all crew and cargo activities, up until now, it hasn’t commonly been used to report crimes of this nature. 

There are a number of challenges when it comes to using CCTV to comply with the Safer Seas Act, including:

  • Someone has to watch all of that footage, either in real-time or after the fact
  • It’s difficult to fully understand what is going on, or see the activities taking place
  • The process of downloading the CCTV footage and couriering it to shore can take months

Many hours of maritime CCTV footage remain unwatched and inaccessible to both onboard crew and management ashore. Live streaming video from ship to shore remains mostly impractical due to maritime bandwidth limitations, poor video quality, and high costs. But, as ship owners and managers now have to report incidents to the Coast Guard immediately, and provide a detailed report within 10 days, they need to find another option. 

In today’s conditions with larger ships and smaller crew, if seafarers onboard want to deliver safer voyages for all members of their crew, they need AI-powered CCTV. 

Improve Safety with ShipIn’s FleetVision

ShipIn’s FleetVision platform aims to create a safer maritime industry by using AI and computer vision to proactively alert shipowners, managers, and seafarers to onboard events in real-time. ShipIn’s technology translates hours of footage onboard each ship in a fleet each month into real-time intelligence that shapes behavior onboard. 

ShipIn delivers a network of cameras that record hundreds of hours of footage stored onboard, fully complying with the new regulation. AI then analyzes this camera footage, syncing with other onboard systems to provide the necessary context needed, such as GPS location, AIS status, crew manifest, and time of day. Much of this information is required when creating incident reports for the Coast Guard under the Safer Seas Act. 

ShipIn’s FleetVision platform shares this data from ship to shore in near real-time, enabling both shipboard crew and management ashore to understand and accurately assess events onboard. While complying with Safer Sea Act requirements and retaining footage for the necessary time periods, ship owners and managers get additional insights and visibility to improve safety, security, and operations onboard. 

By using ShipIn’s AI-powered FleetVision platform and CCTV, fleet owners and managers have the digital tools they need to create a safer work environment and to provide additional safeguards for the midshipmen on-board their vessels at the same time as fulfilling regulatory requirements. 

Learn more about FleetVision™

Osher Perry

Osher Perry is the Co-Founder and CEO of ShipIn Systems, a Boston-based Fleet Vision platform. ShipIn unlocks ship-to-shore collaboration with visual analytics, reducing losses by 40% and increasing productivity by 8%. Osher is a former naval (Lt. Commander) officer who brings significant experience in establishing strategic partnerships and fostering innovation to deliver value creation in operations. Osher holds MBA from Tel Aviv University, and Harvard Business School Executive Education. He is a Commercial Ocean Yachtmaster who has sailed around the world.

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