The Coast Guard is inspecting all Subchapter T and K overnight vessels following September’s fatal dive boat fire in California, an officer told a congressional hearing last week.

Rear Adm. Richard Timme, Coast Guard assistant commandant for prevention policy, also said he created a task force to look at those results and make suggestions for any needed safety changes that would affect the entire fleets. “That includes relooking at the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) recommendations,” he said. Timme testified Nov. 14 before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee.

And the Coast Guard doesn’t need to wait to make its suggestions until its Marine Board of Investigation finishes its probe of the Labor Day accident that killed 32 passengers and one crew, Timme said.

And the Coast Guard doesn’t need to wait to make its suggestions until its Marine Board of Investigation finishes its probe of the Labor Day accident that killed 32 passengers and one crew, Timme said. (Subchapter T vessels are under 100 gross tons and carry 150 or fewer passengers or have overnight accommodations for up to 49.)

Timme’s testimony came as the NTSB and others have criticized the agency for not adopting its safety recommendations after other accidents, such as the July 2018 duck boat sinking near Branson, Mo., that killed 17 people.

The NTSB recently pushed again to require duck boats to have enough reserve buoyancy to float even if flooded and to remove canopies, side curtains and framing while underway if they don’t have sufficient reserve buoyancy. They made similar recommendations after 13 people died in the 1999 Miss Majestic duck boat accident near Hot Springs, Ark.

Congress also has weighed in with legislation calling for stiffer regulations and a jab at the Coast Guard.

“The United States has a history of taking a reactionary approach to safety, creating maritime safety laws that follow tragedy rather than preemptively strengthening safety requirements for a more robust fleet, one that is effectively regulated and inspected,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., chairman of the Coast Guard Subcommittee, said in a statement at the hearing on vessel safety.

“The Coast Guard’s repeated failure to embrace and act on the NTSB’s recommendations on passenger vessels has emerged as a persistent thread in recent maritime casualties. Recommendations from prior casualties continue to resurface in later accidents, and yet the Coast Guard refuses to act.”

Brian Curtis, director of the NTSB’s office of marine safety, said their dive boat investigation would take a close look at whether Subchapter T adequately addresses issues such as escape routes, fire detection alarm systems, training and company policies.

The NTSB’s preliminary report said all six crewmembers were asleep when the fire started aboard the 75’x25’ wooden hulled Conception off Santa Cruz Island. The vessel’s Certificate of Inspection (COI) requires a roving watch, according to the Coast Guard, which said boat was inspected in February and complied with regulatory requirements.

“Recent casualties have demonstrated that material condition is just one aspect in the overall safety of the vessel,” Timme said in his prepared remarks. “The human factor – the master and crew – serves a vital role in the early detection and avoidance of potential hazards that may have severe consequences to life and property on these complex vessels.”

Curtis said the NTSB would like safety management systems — which specify crew duties and responsibilities — on all U.S. passenger vessels so they meet the same Coast Guard standards as oceangoing vessels. He noted that a number of operators of small passenger vessels have voluntarily implemented the systems “that include integral preventive maintenance programs.”

The NTSB has no enforcement power, though it does have the power of persuasion.


Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.