The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is renewing its call for the U.S. Coast Guard to mandate safety management systems (SMS) for passenger vessels following the deadly fire on board the submersible Conception in 2019. The NTSB has been advocating for SMS for passenger vessels since 2005, and in 2010, Congress granted the Coast Guard the authority to require such systems. However, progress has been slow, prompting the NTSB to send a letter to the Coast Guard Commandant, urging them to issue the regulations within 30 days. An SMS is a corporate approach to risk management that includes policies, procedures, checklists, and corrective actions to ensure compliance with regulations and best practices.
In December 2021, the Coast Guard issued interim rules in response to the NTSB’s investigation into the Conception accident, incorporating many of their recommendations. However, SMS implementation was not included. The NTSB’s investigation found that if an SMS had been in place, the owner and operator of Conception could have identified and addressed unsafe practices and fire risks, potentially preventing the tragedy. The fire on board Conception resulted in the deaths of 33 passengers and one crew member, who were trapped in the berth area while the ship burned and sank.
The NTSB has been advocating for SMS across various modes of transportation, including aviation, rail, transit, pipelines, and shipping. They argue that SMS is a crucial tool for continuous improvement and ensuring compliance with safety regulations. The Coast Guard now faces renewed pressure to implement SMS regulations in an effort to prevent similar accidents and protect the lives of passengers on board passenger vessels.