Honorable Deborah Hersman, NTSB Board Member

Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board
Opening Remarks
Cruise Ships: Examining Safety, Operations, and Oversight
NTSB Public Forum
Washington, DC, March 25, 2014
(As Prepared for Delivery)


Good morning. Welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Debbie Hersman, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are my fellow Board members: Vice Chairman Christopher Hart, Member Robert Sumwalt, Member Mark Rosekind, and Member Earl Weener.

We're here today to learn about cruise ship safety on behalf of the traveling public, to help make cruises safer for the traveling public. When a passenger steps onto a cruise ship they have the right to expect the safest vessel possible.

NTSB's mission is to investigate accidents, determine probable cause, and issue recommendations to help prevent future accidents. For ships, that means operational safety, training, survival factors, oversight, human performance, ship design, fire safety and more.

But neither our mission nor our expertise extends to criminal activity or public health. To those who have suffered a loss or an injury on a cruise ship, regardless of the cause, I wish to express our deepest condolences. We know that grief knows no statutory boundaries. But please understand that our goal at this forum is to listen, learn, and prevent future tragedies that are within the NTSB's safety mandate.

We will cover a lot of ground over the next two days, and this forum is structured to gather the best possible information in that short span of time. Only Board Members, staff, and presenters will participate directly. But we invite the public to join the conversation on twitter @ntsb #cuisesafety, or to email their comments for the public docket to CruiseShipSafetyForum@ntsb.gov.

In 1912 — although nobody thought it could happen — the RMS Titanic sank, with tremendous and tragic loss of life. In 1914, the world responded with the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea, or SOLAS.

100 years later, in 2012 — although people thought such tragedies were relics of the past — the Costa Concordia capsized, taking dozens of lives.

In 2014, this forum marks the NTSB's first public event on the safety of cruise ships. We have never held an investigative hearing on a cruise-ship accident or incident, because the agency has jurisdiction only in U.S. territorial waters, within 12 miles of shore. When incidents happen in international waters, by contrast, our comments, along with those of the U.S. Coast Guard, are sent to the investigating state. In this forum, we will also ask whether today's regulatory framework and investigative protocols truly provide for the most robust, independent and transparent investigation of these accidents.

We are here today to shine a light on the current state of cruise ship safety. What are the known vulnerabilities in cruise ship safety? How do cruise lines oversee the safety of their vessels? How are officers trained to adhere to the highest standards of safety? What protections are now in place to prevent fires? What practices are in place to evacuate the population of a small city from a ship at sea? Open discussion of all these topics can help advance the application of lessons already learned.

In a moment, our forum coordinator Liam LaRue will explain the panels we have convened to help us get at these questions.

Worldwide, about 22 million people will take cruises in 2014. That's more than four times as many as just 20 years ago. The largest ships can now accommodate more than 6,000 passengers and 2,000 crew.

The remarkable growth of cruise lines in recent years has the industry building yet more capacity. But more serious accidents and incidents can only be headed off by continually seeking safety improvements. Conversely, the dead weight of complacency may be one of the few things that can darken this booming industry's bright outlook.

I look forward to a productive two days.