Congress introduces bill to increase passenger vessel safety

In December, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Representatives Salud Carbajal and Julia Brownley (all D-Calif.) introduced the Small Passenger Vessel Safety Act, a bill to establish new safety measures for small passenger vessels in the aftermath of the Conception boat fire in waters off California’s Santa Cruz Island earlier this year.

“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,” said Sen. Feinstein. “We must ensure that small passenger vessels have the right safety measures in place to prevent disasters at sea. This bill addresses the specific conditions that are being investigated as causes of the Conception fire, conditions that exist on hundreds of similar vessels in operation today. Congress should act on this bill before another tragedy strikes.”

“If we are to save lives and make necessary reforms in the wake of the Conception tragedy, we must no longer allow older vessels to operate under antiquated regulations at the expense of our public safety,” said Rep. Carbajal. “Our bill to modernize maritime safety is not only practical, it’s imperative. Over the years, we have seen enough evidence from previous disasters and other investigations to know that the time to put safety first is long overdue. I’m proud to work with my friends and fellow Californians, Senator Feinstein and Rep. Brownley, to bring forward a bill that makes our waters safer and makes important updates to an outdated system.”

“While we await NTSB’s final report on the Conception incident, 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. I thank Senator Feinstein and Congressman Carbajal for their efforts to ensure the safety of passengers and crew, and I am proud to co-author this critical boat safety legislation,” said Rep. Brownley.

What the bill does:

  • Requires small passenger vessels to have no less than two means of escape to different parts of the vessel.
  • Mandates safety standards for the handling and storage of phones, cameras and other electronic devices with lithium ion batteries.
  • Establishes stricter standards for interconnected fire alarm systems.

Background:

  • The Conception boat fire killed 34 passengers in the early morning hours on Sept. 2, 2019, in waters off Santa Cruz Island near Santa Barbara, Calif.
  • A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report found that smoke alarms on the vessel only sounded locally and were not interconnected throughout the vessel, so the crew above decks weren’t alerted.
  • Following the Conception fire, the Coast Guard issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin urging that operators limit the unsupervised charging of lithium ion batteries and the use of extension cords to reduce potential fire hazards.
  • Many of the passengers are believed to have died from smoke inhalation in the bunk room because flames were blocking an emergency exit.

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