Coronavirus: U.S. Coast Guard Provides Clarification on “Essential Workers” for the Maritime Industry

As the COVID-19 pandemic continued its spread across the United States in the second and third weeks of March, numerous states instituted stay-at-home/shelter-in-place orders in efforts to “flatten the curve” and prevent overwhelming the health care infrastructure as well as slow or prevent the spread of the virus. Many of these orders have incorporated or referenced the “Memorandum On Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response” issued by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on March 19, and updated on March 28 (CISA Guidelines). The CISA Guidelines provide guidance on what categories of workers and services should be considered “essential” infrastructure workforce that should continue during the COVID-19 response across all jurisdictions (i.e., exempt from the stay-at-home orders).

Many of the states affected by these CISA-based isolation orders are coastal (New York, California, Virginia, Maryland, Louisiana) and/or along the nation’s inland waterways (Illinois, Ohio, Louisiana), and thus vast swathes of the country’s maritime infrastructure are potentially impacted by these orders. While the CISA Guidelines generally include “maritime transportation workers – port workers, mariners, equipment operators” and categories of “petroleum workers,” these categories were fairly broad and open to further interpretation/specification.

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After Four Years and Numerous Comments, Coast Guard Issues Formal Cybersecurity Guidance for Marine Facilities

In the midst of the chaos generated by the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 20, 2020, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) released an important Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC 20-01) concerning “Guidelines for Addressing Cyber Risks at Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) Regulated Facilities,” together with a Commandant Notice commenting on the NVIC.  NVIC 20-01 has had a long path to finalization via notice and comment rulemaking, and has been discussed previously during the comment period on this blog.   Ironically, given the increased threat of cyber attacks during this period when so many are working remotely via potentially vulnerable online infrastructures, this NVIC is perhaps unintentionally particularly well-timed. (more…)

When Form Meets Substance: Two Fifth Circuit Decisions Chart the Boundary Lines of Summary Judgment

Murky waters swirl in the legal gulf that separates the absence of any “genuine dispute[s] as to any material fact” (in which case summary judgment is appropriate); and the presence of non-speculative “evidence [on which] a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” (in which case summary judgment is not appropriate and the case must be fully tried to the fact finder). Two recent Fifth Circuit decisions, however, have plumbed these depths and charted a truer course (if only slightly) for navigating maritime summary judgments – although the two decisions resulted in diametrically opposed outcomes. (more…)

The Modern MASS-T Head: The Rise and Reality of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships

Of modern standers-of-mast-heads we have but a lifeless set; mere stone, iron, and bronze men; who, though well capable of facing out a stiff gale, are still entirely incompetent to the business of singing out upon discovering any strange sight.

MOBY DICK, Chap. XXXV. “THE MAST-HEAD”

While driverless terrestrial vehicles have been a hot topic in the media (including on Baker Donelson’s Autonomous Vehicle Law blog) – from Tesla autopilot crashes to self-driving freight trucks – there has been an equally (if not more) anticipated and analyzed trend (some would say nascent revolution) in the less popularly publicized international maritime vessel operations: the rise of autonomous vessel technologies on the world’s oceans, rivers, and harbors. The term of art for these autonomous vessels – “maritime autonomous surface ships,” “MASS” for short – is ironically cognate with the very vessel “MASters” that autonomous technology would stand to replace.

The initial forays into the possibilities of autonomous vessel technologies began (more or less) with Rolls-Royce just into the second decade of the 2000s. Since then the concept has been put to numerous actual proofs by Rolls-Royce and others, and it is safe to say that it is now not a matter of if or even when MASS technology enters the market, but rather the extent to which MASS technology will disrupt traditional global shipping and vessel operations. And while the technical advances have been steadily developing in the hands of engineers, regulators have been attempting to keep pace with the legal ramifications of MASS. (more…)