United States International Trade Commision Rulings And Harmonized Tariff Schedule
faqs.org  Rulings By Number  Rulings By Category  Tariff Numbers
faqs.org > Rulings and Tariffs Home > Rulings By Number > 2006 HQ Rulings > HQ 115969 - HQ 116609 > HQ 116593

Previous Ruling Next Ruling
HQ 116593

January 6, 2006

VES-10-01-RR:BSTC:CCI 116593 rb


Michael E. McCauley
Production Coordinator - GOM
Newfield Exploration Company
363 North Sam Houston Parkway East, Suite 2020 Houston, TX 77060

RE: Coastwise Trade; Salvage; Outer Continental Shelf; 46 U.S.C. App. 316(d), 883; 43 U.S.C. 1333(a)

Dear Mr. McCauley:

In your letter of December 29, 2005, you request an expedited ruling, on behalf of Newfield Exploration Company, concerning the applicability of the coastwise merchandise law, 46 U.S.C. App. 883, and the law covering salvaging operations, 46 U.S.C. App. 316(d), in connection with the use of a foreign-flagged support vessel in inspecting damaged/destroyed production platforms and the possible removal of platform-related debris located beyond U.S. territorial waters on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. Our ruling follows.


There are up to 23 offshore drilling platforms involved in this case, which are all located on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) beyond U.S. territorial waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Due to recent storms, the platforms have either been overthrown or severely damaged, and their associated pipelines have likewise been heavily damaged. While some of the platform piles may still be attached to the seabed, there is also platform-related debris strewn along the ocean floor on the OCS (beyond U.S. territorial waters). A foreign-flagged support vessel, with proper equipment, including a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) and a sonar-imaging system, will conduct a detailed survey and inspection of the platforms, piles, pipelines and debris fields. The vessel will sail from a U.S. port and return thereto. Some of the platform-related debris may possibly be recovered/removed by the support vessel during the inspection/surveying operations (specifically, by the use of its ROV), and it would thereafter be transported to and unladed at a U.S. port.


Whether the proposed inspection and surveying of the drilling platforms, piles, pipelines and attendant debris using a foreign-flagged support vessel would violate 46 U.S.C. App. 316(d) or 883; and whether the possible recovery/removal, by the vessel’s ROV, of platform-related debris from the ocean floor on the OCS (and beyond U.S. territorial waters) and its subsequent lading aboard the vessel for transportation to and unlading at a U.S. port would violate section 316(d) or section 883.


Under 46 U.S.C. App. 316(d), with exceptions not here applicable, a foreign vessel is prohibited from engaging in salvaging operations in the territorial waters of the United States on the Gulf of Mexico; and, under 46 U.S.C. App. 883, merchandise may not be transported between ports or places embraced within the coastwise laws in any other vessel than one which is coastwise-qualified (i.e., built in and documented under the laws of the United States, and owned by persons who are citizens of the United States. Generally, insofar as concerned herein, the coastwise laws apply to any point in the territorial waters of the United States, defined as the belt, three (3) nautical miles wide, adjacent to the coast of the United States and seaward of the territorial sea baseline (T.D. 78-440). In addition, under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), as amended, 43 U.S.C. 1333(a), the laws of the United States are extended to the subsoil and seabed of the OCS and to all artificial islands, and all installations and other devices that are permanently or temporarily attached to the seabed, which may be erected thereon for the purpose of exploring for, developing, or producing resources therefrom to the same extent as if the OCS were an area of exclusive Federal jurisdiction within a State. Thus, the laws applicable to the OCS include the customs and navigation laws, as well as the coastwise laws, such as sections 316(d) and 883 (Headquarters ruling (HQ) 116586, dated December 29, 2005).

Use of Support Vessel to Conduct Underwater Inspections/Surveys

It is well settled that the transportation of equipment, supplies and materials by a support vessel for use on or from the vessel in effecting services such as inspections of offshore or subsea structures, including pipelines, does not constitute a use of the vessel under section 883, provided such equipment, supplies and materials are necessary for accomplishing the vessel’s mission and are usually carried aboard the vessel as a matter of course (such articles are not considered “merchandise” for section 883 purposes). As such, the use of the subject support vessel in conducting the intended inspections/surveys in this case would not involve the coastwise transportation of merchandise under section 883 (HQ 113838, dated February 25, 1997 (involving, inter alia, inspection/maintenance/repair of oil and gas pipelines and production platforms); and see, HQ 112122, of July 22, 1992 (chartered vessel used to survey and
map ocean floor over the route of a planned telecommunications cable)). Nor would the use of the support vessel in this regard constitute a salvaging operation under section 316(d) (see HQ 113838, supra, and the authorities cited and discussed therein).

Recovery/Removal of Debris on OCS Floor

Notably, when the OCSLA, supra, was amended in 1978 with reference to temporary attachment, the legislative history further made clear that:

Federal law is to be applicable to all activities or all devices in contact with the seabed for exploration, development, and production. The committee intends that Federal law is, therefore, to be applicable to activities on drilling rigs, and other watercraft, when they are connected to the seabed by drillstring, pipes, or other appurtenances, on the OCS for exploration, development, or production purposes.

H. Rept. 95-590, reprinted at, 1978 U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News 1450, at 1534.

Accordingly, the possible recovery/removal of any platform-related debris from the ocean floor on the OCS beyond U.S. territorial waters, and its subsequent transportation therefrom to, and unlading at, a coastwise point would not implicate sections 316(d) and 883. To this end, specifically, the described debris strewn along the OCS seabed can in no way legally be perceived as being affixed or attached to the seabed for exploration, development or production purposes, as required by the OCSLA; and, hence, such debris locations would not be considered coastwise points under the OCSLA (see, e.g., HQ 115850 of November 15, 2002, which concluded that a destroyed drilling rig’s severed leg remnants no longer constituted coastwise points, where such remnants were “mangled pieces of debris [that] have no function”).


Under the facts presented in this case, the proposed inspection/surveying of the drilling platforms, piles, pipelines and attendant debris using a foreign-flagged support vessel would not violate 46 U.S.C. App. 316(d) or 883; and the possible recovery/removal of platform-related debris from the ocean floor on the OCS (and beyond U.S. territorial waters) and its lading aboard the vessel for transportation to and unlading at a U.S. port would not violate section 316(d) or section 883.


Glen E. Vereb

Previous Ruling Next Ruling