Coast Guard to reconsider NTSB recommendations

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The fire on the Conception dive boat killed 34 people. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

The fire on the Conception dive boat killed 34 people. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

After the U.S. Coast Guard was accused of ignoring National Transportation Safety Board recommendations that could help prevent boating tragedies, a leader of the Coast Guard said the agency will reconsider the measures.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation quizzed the Coast Guard and NTSB about passenger safety on waterways. The meeting came in the aftermath of the Labor Day fire aboard the Conception dive boat that killed 34 passengers who were sleeping belowdecks.

At the start of the hearing, members of Congress were reportedly “troubled” to learn from an LA Times investigation that the Coast Guard had allegedly ignored NTSB safety recommendations to improve fire-safety measures for nearly 20 years.

“The United States has a history of taking a reactionary approach to safety, creating maritime safety laws that follow tragedy rather than preemptively strengthening safety requirements for a more robust fleet, one that is effectively regulated and inspected,” Rep. Sean Patrick Mahoney. (D-N.Y.), chairman of the subcommittee said in the article.

He continued, “The Coast Guard’s repeated failure to embrace and act on the NTSB’s recommendations on passenger vessels has emerged as a persistent thread in recent maritime casualties. Recommendations from prior casualties continue to resurface in later accidents, and yet the Coast Guard refuses to act.”

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said “the sea remains a relentless threat, one that can strike without warning, without mercy, and at any time. “There is an old saying that all Coast Guard safety regulations are written in blood as each new regulation reflects the lessons learned from the latest marine disaster.”

The NTSB has reportedly called on the Coast Guard to require small vessels to establish procedures for conducting regular inspections and reporting maintenance and repair needs for all of a boat’s systems — including the hull and mechanical and electrical operations. Because the NTSB is an independent federal agency, it has no authority to enforce its recommendations, so the Coast Guard is not required to follow them.

The Coast Guard has allegedly pushed back on the recommendation, saying it was “unnecessarily burdensome and duplicative of existing requirements.”

Rear Admiral Richard Timme, assistant commandant for prevention policy, said the Coast Guard created a task force to inspect vessels similar to the Conception and suggest what needs to be immediately implemented to protect passengers. He added that the agency will not wait for any investigation to finish before enacting new measures.

“To this end, the Coast Guard will strive to continuously improve,” said Timme. “We will closely examine the findings of all marine casualty investigations to improve that framework. We will wholly fulfill our regulatory oversight role to keep the maritime public safe. It’s my priority.”

According to the New York Times, the Coast Guard faced the same type of criticism following the sinking of a duck boat in Missouri last year that killed 17 people. The NTSB accused the coast Guard’s oversight of duck-boat operations of being lax and ignoring safety hazards on the vessels for decades. The World War II era military vehicle that can run on land and water went down during a thunderstorm on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo., killing 17 of the 31 passengers on board.

The NTSB had reportedly pushed for the Coast Guard to require duck boats to have more watertight spaces above the waterline and to remove the overhead canopies because they could hamper evacuation.

“Lives could have been saved and the Stretch Duck 7 accident could have been prevented had previously issued safety recommendations been implemented,” Robert L. Sumwalt, the NTSB chairman, said in a statement on Wednesday. The board said that 13 of the 22 recommendations relating to duck boats that it had made since 1999 had been followed.

Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Amy Midgett said in a statement on Thursday that the Coast Guard had issued guidance in 2000 that urged its inspectors and vessel owners to evaluate canopy design and installation.

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