National Transportation Safety Board
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The National Transportation Safety Board is in the midst of an investigation of a fire that occurred on the UNIVERSE EXPLORER in July 1996 that killed 5 crew members. The Board hopes to issue a final report in November.
An issue of immediate concern to the Board is how the Coast Guard accepted a deferment for the ship, granted by Panama – where the ship is registered – that allows the UNIVERSE EXPLORER to continue sailing after October 1 without the installation of sprinkler systems. Such a deferment is permitted under International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules under certain circumstances. The Coast Guard's acceptance of that deferment allows the ship to serve U.S. ports.
The NTSB is attempting to document why the Coast Guard would issue that acceptance on September 5, when on August 12 it enumerated 7 pages of safety deficiencies that it said would have to be corrected first. The Board is unaware of any Coast Guard documentation detailing how the owner of the ship would address those safety deficiencies, a timetable by which the corrections would be accomplished, or why this ship should be permitted to sail without a sprinkler system.
The University of Pittsburgh has told the Board that it was unaware of the existence or the contents of the Coast Guard's August 12 letter detailing the ship's safety deficiencies at the time the UNIVERSE EXPLORER departed on the school's current Semester at Sea program.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.