204. Observers.

[MSFCMA section 403]


Summary:

NMFS is to promulgate regulations by October 11, 1997, determining which vessels should not carry observers because of inadequate facilities or unsafe conditions, and requiring certain actions to correct those conditions. NMFS is also to establish observer training programs in cooperation with States and Sea Grant programs. Observers onboard vessels are to be considered Federal employees under the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA).

Legislative history:

The Senate bill had included a provision that observer wages would be considered a maritime lien against the vessel, but that was dropped. The FECA language is intended to clarify conflicting court decisions about Jones Act applicability to observers. The Coast Guard has similar language covering members of its auxiliary.

Issues:

The Department of Labor, which administers FECA, is struggling with this new provision. It is unclear how much an injured observer could be paid under FECA; which agency (Labor or NMFS) will ultimately be responsible for that payment; and whether this provision immunizes vessel owners from liability for injury to observers.
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