Safety and security at the passenger vessel convention

Here in Portland, Ore., at the Passenger Vessel Association’s annual convention, attendees got a chance to get out of the hotel and on the water for a Sunday brunch onboard the Portland Spirit, a local dinner-cruise boat. Whether it was a heightened safety sensibility in the aftermath of the Costa Concordia accident or just the ingrained consciousness of PVA members, it seemed that everyone was paying close attention to the safety briefing provided by the crew as we departed the dock. (And thanks to Dan Yates, the Spirit‘s owner, and his crew for a fantastic meal and a lovely ride up and down the Willamette River.)

Safety and security are both hot topics at this year’s PVA get-together. Today, Tuesday, I will be participating in a discussion on maritime security during the past decade with representatives from the Coast Guard and TSA, during which these guys are sure to get an earful about TWIC.

Back at the hotel after the Sunday brunch cruise, the general session featured Earl F. Weener, a senior board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, who talked about the importance of having vessel data recorders (VDRs) for both accident investigations and operational improvements. “Objective data is better than subjective data,” said Weener. “Data recorders have been very helpful to the aviation industry both operationally and in helping reduce the number of accidents.”

The idea of adding VDRs to passenger vessels didn’t go over well with convention attendees. During the questions and comments following Weener’s speech, two PVA members immediately took strong issue with the prospect of carrying VDRs. “Our industry is continually ignored for its excellent safety record while being forced to adapt to unnecessary regulations like TWIC,” said one.

Another piece of mandated safety gear on the horizon is the watch alarm. Now required by the IMO for new international vessels of 150 GT or larger, watch alarms are also being proposed for U.S. Subchapter M vessels. And even though Bridge Navigational Watch Alarm Systems (BNWAS) havn’t been officially proposed for passenger vessels, Furuno just happened to have its BNWAS on display in the exhibit hall. With this system, watchkeepers set an alarm for countdown times between three and 12 minutes. The timer is automatically reset by the use of navigational equipment, a motion detector or manually.

At Monday’s general session, Vice Adm. Brian M. Salerno of the Coast Guard reminded us that 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, as well as the year of the Costa Concordia grounding, both of which are generating keener interest in marine safety by the public and Congress. At the same time, Salerno told PVA members, “We, collectively, have a very good story to tell about passenger vessel safety in this country.” 

About the author

Bruce Buls

With a degree in English literature from the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!), journalism experience at the once-upon-a-time Seattle P-I, and at-sea experience as a commercial fisherman in Washington and Alaska, Bruce Buls has forged a career in commercial marine trade journalism, including stints at Alaska Fishermen’s Journal and National Fisherman, WorkBoat’s sister publications. Bruce spent 16 years as WorkBoat's technical editor before retiring in May 2015. He lives on Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island, about 20 miles north of Seattle (go 'Hawks!).

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