The US Coast Guard has implemented new procedures in the wake of the September 2019 fire that killed 34 people aboard the dive vessel Conception. A USCG press release states that the initiative “enhances underway presence and improves safety aboard small passenger vessels operating off the California coast.”
Safety compliance checks are being conducted underway on smaller, US-inspected passenger vessels to ensure continued regulatory compliance while vessels are conducting operations with paying passengers aboard.
USCG’s Eleventh District commander Rear Admiral Brian Penoye said, “Our intent with these safety compliance checks is to bridge gaps that were identified following the fire onboard the passenger vessel Conception which resulted in the tragic deaths of 34 people.
“We discovered that there are a number of operational requirements that are impossible to verify during a dockside annual inspection. The Coast Guard has been and continues to take deliberate steps to improve the safety of small passenger vessels in order to prevent future loss of life.”
The press release states the compliance checks are focused on ensuring the safety of passengers aboard inspected passenger vessels by focusing efforts to confirm that the following criteria are being met while the vessel is in operation:
- Vessels that offer multi-day trips with overnight accommodations are required to have a crewmember on watch at night, available to rapidly respond to emergencies and commonly referred to as a roving patrol.
- Habitable areas on the vessel must have two unobstructed exits to allow passengers a way to escape in case of an emergency.
- Passengers must receive a verbal safety brief or a copy of the vessel’s emergency plan before or right after getting underway.
- Vessel sails with a number of passengers equal to or less than the maximum number of passengers listed on the Certificate of Inspection (COI).
- Vessel manning is in accordance with the manning required on their COI for both licensed and unlicensed crew.
- All lifesaving and firefighting equipment is properly maintained and is not in an expired condition.
- The materiel condition of the vessel is such as to minimize excess fuel and/or water in the bilges.
People aboard these vessels may see Coast Guard inspectors come aboard during the day and night to check that safety requirements are being met.