Oral Statement Before The House Transportation And Infrastructure Subcommittee On Coast Guard And Maritime Transportation “A Review Of Coast Guard Efforts To Improve Small Passenger Vessel Safety”

​​​​Thank you, Chairman Carbajal, Ranking Member Gibbs, and Members of the Subcommittee. It’s an honor to be here today.

Admiral Mauger, thank you for your commitment to safety and, on behalf of the NTSB, we greatly appreciate the Coast Guard’s collaboration with us in our investigations, which we carry out with mutual respect and the goal of improving safety on our nation’s waterways.

I’d also like to take a moment to once again offer my sincerest condolences to those who’ve lost loved ones in the tragedies we’re discussing today. 

I especially want to acknowledge the families of those who perished on the Conception, many of whom are here in this room or watching remotely. 

I can’t imagine all that you’ve been through since September 2019. I greatly admire your strength, your courage, and your commitment to ensuring no one else loses a loved one in another tragedy on our waterways. 

The Conception investigation was my first marine investigation as a Board member; the experience deepened my commitment to improve marine safety. 

In my first meeting with the victims’ families, I gave them the only promise we at the NTSB have to give: that we would investigate and issue safety recommendations aimed at preventing similar suffering for other families. And then we would — I would — vigorously work to ensure those safety recommendations are implemented. 

I want to thank you, Chairman Carbajal, your colleagues in the California delegation, and the Members and staff of this Subcommittee for your efforts to enact legislation that addresses our recommendations to improve the safety of small passenger vessels, many of which stem from the Conception investigation. 

Unfortunately, the Conception is not the only deadly passenger vessel tragedy in recent history. Since 1999, we’ve investigated:​

  • ​Three accidents involving passenger ferries in New York; 
  • A deadly fire on the small passenger vessel Island Lady in Florida; and
  • Duck boat accidents in waterways in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Missouri. 

Including the Conception, a total of 86 people died in these tragedies. 

Eighty-six lives lost unnecessarily. Eighty-six people who’ve left behind bereaved families and friends. That’s a lot of lives affected. 

Following these investigations, we issued multiple recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard and the maritime industry aimed at closing known safety gaps and we included “passenger vessel safety” on our Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. 

There are currently 19 open NTSB recommendations regarding small passenger vessels. One of those recommendations would require operators to implement a preventative maintenance program; it was issued 20 years ago. 

 Another open recommendation would require operators to implement a safety management system (SM), which we also issued 20 years ago. We reiterated it in 2012, again in 2018, and again in 2020 following numerous tragedies. We’re pleased the Coast Guard has issued a rulemaking to move SMS forward. 

 For two decades, we’ve also recommended that the Coast Guard address significant safety issues with DUKW boats. Had those recommendations been acted upon following the sinking of Miss Majestic in 1999, the tragedy in Branson with 17 deaths likely would not have occurred.

Thank you for including provisions to address this in the Coast Guard authorization bill that the House is considering. And thank you to the Coast Guard for moving our fire safety and emergency egress recommendations forward in an interim final rule.

But it shouldn’t take an act of Congress to address known safety issues with DUKW boats or any other vessel. 

A few weeks ago, I spoke before the Passenger Vessel Association. I was asked what keeps me up at night. It’s the next mother, father, sister, brother, son, or daughter who loses their life in a tragedy we investigate. It’s knowing that we’ve previously investigated a similar tragedy. And it’s knowing that it was preventable had our recommendations been implemented.

 I want to close by thanking those who dedicate their lives and livelihoods to improving marine safety and who inspire me everyday to do all I can to support them and their efforts: our Office of Marine Safety. With me today is the director of the office, Morgan Turrell, and Adam Tucker, who was the investigator-in-charge of the Conception.

Chairman Carbajal and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for your continued support of the NTSB and work to improve marine safety as well as safety in other modes of transportation.

Thank you.