NTSB Urges Coast Guard’s Compliance with Passenger Vessel Safety Advisory

The commercial dive boat Conception at sunrise prior to sinking, September 2, 2019. (Source: Ventura County Fire Department)
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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is urging the U.S. Coast Guard to improve passenger ship safety following the tragic fire aboard the submersible conception in 2019 that claimed the lives of 34 people. Four years later, the NTSB’s recommendation for the Coast Guard to require safety management systems (SMS) for passenger ships remains unaddressed. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy has sent a letter to the Coast Guard commander, emphasizing the need for immediate action within 30 days. Homendy stated that while the Coast Guard has implemented many recommendations, the implementation of SMS for passenger ships is still pending, which is crucial for public safety.

The fire on the conception occurred in 2019 when the ship was anchored off Santa Cruz Island, California. All 33 passengers and one crew member died from smoke inhalation. The NTSB conducted an investigation and concluded that if an SMS had been in place, the owner and operator of the Conception, Truth Aquatics, could have identified and addressed safety risks before the accident. The NTSB issued ten safety recommendations as a result, including the requirement for SMS implementation on all US-flagged passenger ships.

Despite interim rules being issued by the Coast Guard in December 2021 that addressed several of the NTSB’s recommendations, the SMS recommendation remains unimplemented. The NTSB has been advocating for SMS in passenger ships since 2005, and Congress granted the Coast Guard the authority to require such systems in 2010. However, progress has been slow, and the NTSB has noted a lack of implementation by associations representing small passenger vessel operators. The NTSB has emphasized the importance of SMS in all modes of transportation for improved safety.

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