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Boat fire: Coast Guard to reconsider vessel safety improvements that were earlier rejected

Mark Puente and Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Days after the Los Angeles Times reported the U.S. Coast Guard had rejected federal recommendations that could help prevent boating tragedies, a Coast Guard leader said the agency will reconsider the measures in the aftermath of the Labor Day fire that killed 34 people on the Conception dive boat.

On Thursday, a House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation quizzed the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board about passenger safety on waterways.

At the start of the hearing, several Congress members said they were troubled to learn from the Times investigation that the Coast Guard had often ignored NTSB safety recommendations to improve fire-safety measures for nearly 20 years. The Coast Guard has the sole authority to mandate safety protocols on vessels.

"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," said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., chairman of the subcommittee.

"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," he said.

"The reality is that we will never be able to eliminate the risks of going to sea. What we can do, however, is remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that for those who go to sea, they do so on vessels that are built, maintained and operated as safely as possible. We should all honor that pledge."

For years, the NTSB repeatedly has 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.

But the Coast Guard has pushed back on the recommendation, calling it "unnecessarily burdensome and duplicative of existing requirements."


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