Honorable Robert L. Sumwalt

Closing Statement By Honorable Robert L. Sumwalt, III
Member, National Transportation Safety Board
Forum Chairman
PUBLIC FORUM OF FISHING VESSEL SAFETY

October 14, 2010
Washington, DC

 

The last two days have been an extremely insightful. We have heard from a wide range of interested parties - a “who’s who” of the fishing vessel safety network. Most importantly, we have heard from the fishermen themselves, and their perspectives have put a very real face on these issues. 

The sad fact remains that every fisherman who participated in this forum – and most everyone else in attendance, for that matter - have lost a family member, shipmate, or a dear friend while engaged in commercial fishing.

The question after a forum is what will change because of what we have done these last two days? A few minutes ago, Captain Mattera said that he hopes it doesn’t end here. Well, it won’t end here – this is only the beginning.

The Safety Board intends for this forum to serve not simply as a conversation, but rather as a call to action. The technical panel will consider all that has been shared here and a summary report will be developed in the months to come. That report will be available on our website, as will all of the testimony we have heard. An archive of the webcast will be available on the web for the next 90 days. Additionally, new safety recommendations may be developed and issued as a result of this forum.

Like we heard yesterday, in order for significant improvements to be made, we must take a systems approach that begins with a strong regulatory base, both from the U. S. Coast Guard and the National Marine Fisheries Service. These federal agencies may need additional authority to further improve safety. Other federal and state agencies also have a role to play, also.

But, you can have the best Federal and State Local laws, but if those on the front lines ignore them or use poor judgment, then we still have not improved safety. The fishermen are the last link in the chain, the last line of defense in preventing an accident.

Many of those who participated as panel members have worked for decades to improve safety, as has the NTSB. We hope that work continues with energy and innovation.

We also hope that participants leave with a renewed sense of purpose, committed to continuing the good fight, and that this forum has generated new interest in cooperation and new ideas.

Obviously, there are many other matters impacting safety that could not be addressed in these two days. That said, we did cover a lot of ground.

I’d like to thank the staff in NTSB’s Office of Marine Safety took on this massive effort at the same time they were conducting numerous accident investigations. They did so because of their deep commitment to the safety of our nation’s fishermen, and I would like to thank them by name: Dr. Jack Spencer, Mike Rosecrans, Rob Henry, Larry Bowling, Liam LaRue, and Charlotte Cox. And assisting with forum logistics, I’d like to thank Antion Downs, Greg Pereira, Rochelle Hall, Christine Fortin, Brian Dennis, Robert Turner, Tarrence Thrash, and Keith Holloway for their invaluable administrative, technical, and media support. And, from Board Member offices, Member Mark Rosekind, Jason Fedock, and those in my office, Stephanie Matonek and Sean Dalton.

I want to thank the panelist for their valuable contributions. They were the heart of this forum. They were excellent, without exception. Our sincere appreciation goes out to each of the panelist for giving their time and energy to this very worthwhile endeavor. 

And, if the heart of the forum were the panelist, then those in the audience were the soul of the forum. For some, you never intended to get involved in fishing vessel safety. But, like me, the loss of a family member, friend, or co-worker in a transportation accident, got you involved. So, I personally thank those of you who were here to support through your attendance, your attention, and advocacy over the years of these important issues.

We are not here for the media, but noteworthy to me is that we have no media here – not now, or not before the forum. I have chaired hearing where we got widespread media attention, but not this one.

Unfortunately, this confirms what I said yesterday – in spite of the fact that commercial fishing is the most deadly occupation in America, the national consciousness has not been raised on this important safety issue.

But, in spite of that apparent lack of public consciousness, I know the people in this room are truly dedicated to improving safety. Because of the lack of public attention, your work is even more difficult. And, this makes your work all the more imperative.

If you don’t do it, who will? Your work is important. It does make a difference. It does matter, and it does save lives!  

There is a saying that I often think of. It says if you save one life, it is as if you have saved an entire world. Ladies and gentlemen – you have saved an entire world through your work. Thank you for that.

You have my commitment that this agency will not stop working to improve safety of this important industry. And, you have my personal commitment that I, too, will remain involved as well.

Thank you for your attention. This forum is adjourned.