Thank you very much for inviting me to speak with you today. The cruise ship industry is important to the people of our country, and I am as interested as you are in making sure that it is as safe as it can be. I am very pleased that your safety record is excellent, and from what I have seen of the industry, safety is foremost in your minds.
I know you are very busy and have a lot planned for this afternoon, so I am not going to take up a lot of your time. In fact, I will keep it short and give you the opportunity to ask me questions or give me comments. I’d like to cover three things: our mission, our most wanted safety recommendations, and give you an update on our marine safety activities.
You are aware that NTSB shows up at major accidents. The week before last we were in Atlanta investigating that tragic bus crash with the college baseball team. Last week we sent investigators to Indonesia for the plane crash that killed 21 people – fortunately most of the passengers escaped alive. What I bet you don’t know is that we cover the entire United States and send teams abroad with a total staff of less than 400 people. That’s considerably less than the number of crew on one of your ships. In fact, right now we are down by about 30 people because of budget constraints, but with the support of this Administration and Congress I am hopeful that we will be fully staffed by this time next year.
The Mission of NTSB is to promote transportation safety by
- Maintaining our congressionally mandated independence and objectivity;
- Conducting objective, precise accident investigations and safety studies;
- Performing fair and objective airman and mariner certification appeals;
- Advocating and promoting NTSB safety recommendations; and
- Assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.
The scope of NTSB responsibility is to determine the probable cause of
- All U.S. civil aviation accidents and certain public-use aircraft accidents;
- Selected highway accidents;
- Railroad accidents involving passenger trains or any train accident that results in at least one fatality or major property damage;
- Major marine accidents and marine accidents involving a public and a nonpublic vessel;
- Pipeline accidents involving a fatality or substantial property damage;
- Releases of hazardous materials in all forms of transportation; and
- Selected transportation accidents that involve problems of a recurring nature.
Since its inception in 1967 the Safety Board has investigated more than 128,000 aviation accidents and thousands of surface transportation accidents. NTSB has issued more than 12,600 safety recommendations to more than 2,700 recipients in all transportation modes. Through the years 82 percent of those recommendation have been adopted by those with the authority to effect change. Many safety issues currently incorporated into airplanes, automobiles, trains, pipelines and ships had their origin in NTSB recommendations.
Since 1990 the NTSB has highlighted selected high priority issues on a “most wanted” list of safety improvements. I’ve got copies of this year’s list for you to take. You’ll notice that there is a list for actions needed by federal agencies, and a list for states. On the marine side for the states, the recommendations involve recreational boating safety. Although the federal government generally does not have jurisdiction on sole state waters, NTSB is concerned about recreational boating safety because those accidents involve problems of a recurring nature and which have resulted in hundreds of deaths. Last year we investigated the capsizing of a small passenger vessel in which 20 elderly people died – that boat was not inspected by the Coast Guard because it operated on the sole state waters of Lake George, New York.
On the federal side, we have one item on the most wanted list. It is a recommendation to the Coast Guard to reduce accidents and incidents caused by human fatigue, and is aimed primarily at certain vessels in domestic service. Last year there was another recommendation to the Coast Guard which the Safety Board closed after the new drug and alcohol testing regulations were issues as final rules.
Our Office of Marine Safety is the smallest of the agency’s modal investigation groups, having at present only 11 investigators. Accidents presently under investigation include an engine room fire aboard a small passenger vessel, a grounding of a containership in New York, a collision of a tanker with an interstate highway bridge in Louisiana, an explosion and fire on an oil field service vessel in state waters, and a foreign flag passenger ship steering incident, all of which occurred within the past year. The Office of Marine Safety is also working on some strategic issues, including a new memorandum of understanding with the Coast Guard, an MOU with the United Kingdom’s marine Accident Investigation Branch concerning voyage data recorder technology, and a possible revision to the regulations relating to investigations of major marine accidents.
Last year, when the Star Princess caught fire, the NTSB assisted the UK’s MAIB in their investigation. We helped with the on scene investigation, analyzed the VDR data, and reviewed their report. This was an immensely successful experience for both NTSB and MAIB, and we intend to continue to work closely together to improve our accident investigation capabilities. I would like to add that our relationship with the Coast Guard also is the best it has been in many years. We routinely send our investigators to the Coast Guard’s passenger vessel control verification course in Miami, and we also send an instructor to the Coast Guard’s marine investigator school in Yorktown, Virginia.
We also want to work more closely and more cooperatively with the marine industry, and not just show up after an accident. This year we sent some one to the Alaska 2007 Pre-Season Cruise Ship Workshop, and we have given several presentations over the last year to various shipping companies and industry associations. I appreciate being here today, and I hope you will let us work with you on other occasions.
Along those lines, I would like to thank those of you who made your staff available to speak with our marine investigators who were looking into heeling incidents aboard ships. I realize the incidents you talked about were not reportable, but you did have good records on them thanks in part to your safety management systems. I recognize that such information is sensitive. The law requires NTSB to be very transparent in how we conduct our business, but there are provisions in the law to keep certain voluntarily provided safety information confidential.
One idea I’d like you to consider is exchanging such information among yourselves. I know that your fleets have knowledge transfer systems where safety lessons learned on one ship are passed to others in the fleet. However, that information, which has potential safety benefits to a much wider audience, is not usually shared among competitors. The Safety Board would be pleased to work with you to develop a system gather such information anonymously and make it available to others. Such voluntary safety information is clearly protected by law.
As a final remark, I would like to applaud the cruise shipping industry for your prompt and responsible actions to address the fire safety issues arising out of the Star Princess fire last year. IMO never amended SOLAS as quickly as they did on this item, and they could not have done it without the support of the industry. Also, your willingness to make the new amendments retroactive to existing ships demonstrates your strong commitment to safety. Such actions not only improve safety, but they also enhance the traveling public’s confidence in the safety of going to sea.
Thank you again for your courtesy, and if there’s time, I’ll be happy to answer questions.