Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation has jurisdiction over the United States Coast Guard, including its duties, organization, functions, and powers. Within the Committee’s broader maritime transportation jurisdiction, the Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the regulation of vessels and seamen; international conventions related to the safety of life at sea; and the regulation of ocean shipping, domestic cabotage, and the merchant marine, except as it relates to national defense.
The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over:
- Title 14, United States Code — Coast Guard
- Title 46, United State Code — Shipping, except those provisions dealing with national defense (generally codified in subtitle IV of title 46)
- The Jones Act (generally codified in chapter 551 of title 46, United States Code)
- Oil Pollution Act
- Ports and Waterways Safety Act
- Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships
- Deepwater Port Act
- Marine Debris Act
- Title X of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 — Clean Hulls
- Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Species Prevention and Control Act of 1990
- General bridge statutes
- Dingell-Johnson Sport Fish Restoration Act, as it relates to boating safety and infrastructure
- Title II of the Act of June 17, 1917 (50 United States Code. 191-198)
- Section 1131 of title 49, United States Code — Transportation, as it relates to the investigation of maritime casualties
The United States Coast Guard was established on January 28, 1915, through the consolidation of the Revenue Cutter Service (established in 1790) and the Lifesaving Service (established in 1848). The Coast Guard later assumed the duties of three other agencies: the Lighthouse Service (established in 1789), the Steamboat Inspection Service (established in 1838), and the Bureau of Navigation (established in 1884).
The Coast Guard remained a part of the Department of the Treasury until 1967, when it was transferred to the newly created Department of Transportation. Under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296), the Coast Guard was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.
Under section 2 of title 14, United States Code, the Coast Guard has primary responsibility to enforce or assist in the enforcement of all applicable federal laws on, under, and over the high seas and waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States; to ensure safety of life and property at sea; to carry out domestic and international icebreaking activities; and, as one of the five armed services of the United States, to maintain defense readiness to operate as a specialized service in the Navy upon the declaration of war or when the President directs.
The Coast Guard is composed of approximately 41,000 active duty military personnel, 8,000 reservists, 8,500 civilian employees, and 30,000 volunteers of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. The Coast Guard has defended the Nation in every war since 1790, including the latest conflicts in the Middle East.
The Coast Guard is directed by a Commandant, who is appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate for a four-year term. In 2014, President Obama appointed Admiral Paul F. Zukunft as Commandant of the Coast Guard.
The United States Maritime Transportation System consists of waterways, ports and their intermodal connections, vessels, vehicles, and system users, as well as federal maritime navigation systems that are scattered throughout 3.5 million square miles of ocean area and along 95,000 miles of coastline. Commercial shipping carries more than 95 percent by volume of U.S. overseas trade through these waters and is critical to U.S. economic health. The system’s objective is the safe, secure, and environmentally sound movement of goods, people, and military assets in the most efficient and economically effective manner possible. The Subcommittee oversees the federal safety, security, environmental, and economic regulation of maritime transportation.
Maritime transportation regulatory activities overseen by the Subcommittee include regulation of vessels and merchant seamen, including inspection and regulation of commercial vessels, carriage of passengers and cargoes; regulation of uninspected vessels, recreational vessels, and commercial fishing vessels; marine casualties; merchant seaman licensing; manning of vessels; pilotage; documentation and measurement of vessels; and boating safety programs.
The Subcommittee also has jurisdiction over certain marine environmental protection activities carried out by the Coast Guard and generally related to the operation of vessels, including oil pollution, air pollution, plastics pollution, aquatic nuisance species transported by vessels, and related international agreements.
The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over port security activities that impact the operations of the Coast Guard, including vessel and facility vulnerability assessments and security plans, security incident response, maritime safety and security teams, foreign port assessments, maritime security advisory committees, and maritime domain awareness.
The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the regulation of ocean shipping, including international ocean shipping, cruise ship financial responsibility, and unfair foreign shipping practices. The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) regulates ocean shipping. The Subcommittee also exercises jurisdiction over ocean common carriers engaged in the domestic offshore trades, as well as matters involving maritime liability.
Domestic maritime cabotage, or coastwise trade, also falls under the Subcommittee’s jurisdiction. Domestic maritime cabotage laws, popularly known as the Jones Act, govern shipping of goods and passengers by water between any two points in the United States. Vessels engaged in the coastwise trade must be U.S. flagged, built, crewed, and owned. The Coast Guard documents vessels engaged in the Jones Act trade. Customs and Border Protection enforces violations of these laws, and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) controls the sale or transfer of U.S. documented vessels to foreign owners.
In addition, the Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the merchant marine, except as it relates to national security. MARAD administers various programs designed to provide financial assistance and to promote and develop the domestic merchant marine industry.