Honorable Deborah Hersman, NTSB Board Member

Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman
National Transportation Safety Board
Closing Remarks
CruiseShips
Examining Safety, Operations, and Oversight
NTSB Public Forum
Washington, DC – March 26, 2014
(As Prepared for Delivery)


I want to thank the witnesses from the United States Coast Guard, the International Maritime Organization, and the cruise line industry, for helping us understand the underlying industry and oversight matrix as it now stands.

I would also like to thank the individuals who did not get to speak but have contributed resource materials to the docket or commented via email and Twitter.

We could not have held this forum without the tireless attention of those who organized it. Liam LaRue and Dr. Barry Strauch have been visible players, as well as other technical panel participants Larry Bowling, Capt. Rob Jones, Nancy McAtee, and Eric Stolzenberg. And just as with an oceangoing vessel, we couldn't get underway, never mind move forward, without the many hands working behind the scenes. For this forum these were Stephanie Davis, Zulfia Manely, Christy Spangler, Rob Turner, Lucille Waldren, Eric Weiss, Eric Emery and Paul Sledzik . On behalf of the Board and the attendees, thank you to the entire team that made this event possible.

Last year, the NTSB held a forum on the subject of safety culture. In closing that forum I said "The safest ship would never leave port. But that ship wouldn't be in the business of transportation." Or in this case, that wouldn't be considered a cruise.

So what is the best framework to advance vessel safety in this unique, international endeavor? Does our present regulatory framework ensure the safest practices will be in place regardless of the flag each vessel flies? Does it guarantee that the best possible lessons are learned from accident and incident investigations?

We are presently involved in three investigations involving cruise ships. In our work, the NTSB draws knowledge from tragedies to improve the safety of us all. Over the last two days, we have asked "how do we, collectively, do that better?"

In the aftermath of the Titanic disaster, the United States launched its own inquest into the sinking. Joseph Conrad called it a "provincial display of authority." Back in England, one official explained why the Titanic had been subjected to only a limited lifeboat drill: "I am a civil servant, sir, and custom guides us a good bit." The world learned that safety at sea is an international concern, a concern in which complacency can have deadly consequences.

In the over one hundred years that have followed the Titanic disaster, with the adoption of international agreements like SOLAS, we know that today's cruise ships operate to a higher standard. But as we have said to other industries, the lack of a major accident is not an indication of safety. The industry – cruise lines, class societies, regulators, and safety investigators – must remain ever vigilant and seek constant improvement. As to civil servants, custom may still guide us a good bit. But custom alone cannot guide us – and it cannot guide industry – when it comes to safety.

A key question for us to consider as we go forward is: With today's ships carrying many times the passengers and crew of Titanic, if we should ever face a tragedy of the size and scope of the Titanic – or larger – are we prepared? Are we prepared to conduct a massive search and recovery effort? Are we willing to have a truly independent and transparent investigation?

For many, a cruise is a dream vacation. But that dream shouldn't turn into a nightmare. The traveling public expects – and deserves – a safe voyage each and every time a ship leaves the dock.

We stand adjourned.