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Feinstein introduces legislation to improve passenger vessel safety

Discussion in 'Liveaboards and Charter Boats' started by Wookie, Dec 15, 2019.

  1. Wookie

    Wookie Secret Field Agent ScubaBoard Business Sponsor

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    Sweeping safety rules proposed in wake of deadly dive boat fire

    California Sen. Dianne Feinstein last week proposed sweeping boat safety legislation in the wake of the Conception fire that killed 34 people, including five members of a Stockton family.

    The legislation would require small passenger vessels to have at least two escape exits, strengthen standards for fire alarm systems and create mandatory safety rules for handling and storage of phones, cameras and other electronic devices with lithium-ion batteries.

    The proposal comes amid growing scrutiny over how the Coast Guard has regulated passenger vessels. A Los Angeles Times review of Coast Guard records over 20 years found the agency repeatedly rejected recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board for tougher safety rules.

    The documents showed that after investigating earlier boat fires, the NTSB called on the Coast Guard to require small vessels to establish procedures for conducting regular inspections and reporting maintenance and repair needs for all of a boat’s systems. But the Coast Guard rejected those calls, calling them “unnecessarily burdensome and a duplication of existing requirements.”

    The cause of the Conception fire is still under investigation. Authorities have said they believe the passengers were trapped below deck when the fire broke out. The NTSB has raised concerns about the functionality of the two exits in the area where passengers slept in stacked bunks beneath the waterline. Among those aboard were five members of a Stockton family — Michael Storm Quitasol, 62; Fernisa Sison, 57; EvanMichel Solano Quitasol, 37; Nicole Storm Solano Quitasol, 31; and Angela Rose Solano Quitasol, 28 — who perished along with 29 others in the dive-boat fire.

    NTSB investigator Jennifer Homendy said in September that she was “taken aback” by the small size of the emergency escape hatches, adding that she thought it would be difficult for passengers to exit during an emergency in the dark.

    The Times reported last month that the Conception was one of about 325 small passenger vessels built before 1996 and given special exemptions from safety standards that the Coast Guard imposed on new vessels, some of which required larger escape hatches and illuminated exit signs.

    The Coast Guard could not immediately be reached for comment. But after the Times story ran, officials said they would reconsider some of the rejected safety recommendations.

    In September, a fire broke out on the Conception during a weekend diving excursion in the Channel Islands, killing everyone who had been sleeping below deck. Since the accident, investigators have cited some of the same deficiencies pointed out by the NTSB in other boat fires: lack of crew training and inadequate safety measures and maintenance.

    A preliminary NTSB investigation found that the Conception had violated a requirement that it have a roving watch during the night, saying the five crew members who survived awoke to discover the flames. The agency also has raised concerns about the functionality of the two exits in the area where passengers slept.

    The results from the NTSB investigation into the Labor Day disaster could take 18 months to complete. Agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are trying to determine what sparked the blaze.

    “The Conception boat fire was a tragedy that could have been prevented had stronger safety measures been in place. We can’t allow this to happen again,” Feinstein, a Democrat, said in a statement. “We must ensure that small passenger vessels have the right safety measures in place to prevent disasters at sea.”

    The bill was co-written by Reps. Salud Carbajal and Julia Brownley, both California Democrats.

    One goal of the legislation is to better protect boats that the Coast Guard didn’t require to follow newer safety rules.

    “It is abundantly clear that Congress must take immediate action to address safety hazards on older boats, which were grandfathered in and exempted from newer safety rules,” Brownley said in a statement.
     
    eleniel, Ayisha, couv and 1 other person like this.
  2. Andy in Gap

    Andy in Gap Nassau Grouper

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    What is your opinion Wookie? Do the regulations need to be updated or is this simply a power grab? Rethinking how and where we charge lithium batteries is a good idea. Without knowing what exactly happened below deck on the Conception its impossible to know if better escape routes would have helped anyone survive.
     
    markmud likes this.
  3. Wookie

    Wookie Secret Field Agent ScubaBoard Business Sponsor

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    I guess it depends on your definition of “safe enough” and what amount of risk each of us is willing to personally take in pursuit of our sport.

    The Coast Guard has long maintained that going to sea is not “safe”. I think discovery channel has a television show about one of the most dangerous profession called Deadliest Catch. Things happen on boats, including fires, flooding, sinking, bad weather, and remoteness from all but emergency medical care. We do things to mitigate those problems, but the CG is very straightforward that they will not be eliminated.

    When I ran a liveaboard, we went above and beyond CG rules in many places, but we were neither required nor did we have fire suppression in our engineroom. We didn’t for a number of reasons, including material of construction, efficacy of water and air tightness of the space, and lack of real danger of fire spreading from machinery space to passenger spaces.

    But I had smoke detectors everywhere, that alarmed both in the galley, wheelhouse, and locally. I had a general alarm in the wheelhouse and could talk to folks in the berthing area, or shout at them loudly. We spent many tens of thousands of dollars on doors and windows that would keep any fire in one section of the boat and not allow it to consume the whole thing, and we were built of a material that didn’t burn.

    I like that the Coast Guard allows the boat owner some discretion on where their particular boat needed safety upgrades. I’m afraid that a set of one size fits all safety rules will result in reduced safety and needless expense on some vessels.
     
  4. Eric Sedletzky

    Eric Sedletzky Great White

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    I don’t think it would be a bad idea to mandate that any bunkroom or below deck area where people sleep should have two easily usable escape routes, and in my opinion one should lead directly to an outside area. On the Conception both escape routes led into the salon which was allegedly completely up in flames.
    Beyond that if every possible source of ignition is considered and mitigated starting with the wiring, outlets, lights, machinery, boat materials, etc., then consider other sources of ignition like battery charging, smoking, vaping, and/or any other possible ignition sources.
    This is about the best we can do.

    You can bet all the boats now have somebody awake all night.
     
    chillyinCanada and markmud like this.
  5. tursiops

    tursiops Marine Scientist and Master Instructor ScubaBoard Supporter

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    Nah, too many hairy-chested libertarians..."You can't tell ME what to do!"
     
  6. Scraps

    Scraps Divemaster

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    I think that when a federal agency that’s in the business of writing regulations says a new set of suggested laws or regulations is redundant and burdensome, their opinion should be seriously considered.

    Also, NTSB has been known for proposing new regulations it thinks might have prevented whatever casualty they’re investigating without giving adequate thought to costs, risk management trade-offs, or breadth of applicability. It’s real easy for an agency with no operating responsibility to toss out suggestions and point fingers. I take their proposals with many grains of salt.

    My personal opinion is that it’s better to draft regulations slowly based on long-term analysis of safety trends and a thorough understanding of the operations affected than to write laws quickly in response to single incidents.
     
    Bob DBF, drrich2, eleniel and 2 others like this.
  7. tursiops

    tursiops Marine Scientist and Master Instructor ScubaBoard Supporter

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    So you feel no changes are needed? This wasn't the first and only incident, you understand, I hope.
     
  8. Wookie

    Wookie Secret Field Agent ScubaBoard Business Sponsor

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    And what if the new legislation forces the Coast Guard to make sure that passenger vessels are made from non-combustible material? Or some other rule that makes 80% of all passenger vessels worthless?

    We had an OCMI in the keys who decided that all dive boats in his AO had to carry a dinghy when he saw that we carried a dinghy. Imagine the consternation....
     
    chillyinCanada, markmud and Scraps like this.
  9. Scraps

    Scraps Divemaster

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    I said no such thing.

    The M/V Conception fire obliges regulating agencies to seriously consider standards for egresses, how to manage the hazard of battery powered devices brought aboard vessels by passengers, watch keeping standards, passenger briefs and alarms and emergency lighting.

    However, I am extremely skeptical that a knee-jerk legislative solution that is more focused on political posturing than understanding the complexities of the problem and the unintended consequences of the solution will be effective.
     
  10. markmud

    markmud Self Reliant Diver--On All Dives. ScubaBoard Supporter

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    Hi Sraps,

    I can't write what you wrote much better. Your opinion aligns with mine quite well. Especially considering the most effective way to prevent a disaster like this is for a vessel's master to abide by their COI and Navigation Rules, which both require a watch stander (one for fire, one for navigational issue; can be the same person).

    Do newer vessels need to have better egress routes? You betch-ya! Do regulators need to research and propose new regulations for charging batteries? You betch-ya! Should existing vessels modify or upgrade their egress routes if similar to Conception's? You betch-ya!

    Easy their DiFi, let's not get the cart before the horse.

    Next issue is Richard Blum. He has made lots of money off legislation that DiFi has proposed. Is he involved again? Politics is politics, after all.

    cheers,
    m
     
    NothingClever, Johnoly and Scraps like this.

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