Safety on the Water: A Constant Reminder

By: Earl Weener

The recent grounding of the cruise ship Costa Concordia off Italy’s Giglio Island is a constant reminder that safety at sea must always be at the forefront of marine operations. News reports currently indicate that at least 16 people were killed and several passengers remain missing. International regulations require that cruise vessels operating in international waters adhere to exacting standards for Safety Management Systems (SMS) and voyage data recorders. In the United States, however, domestic passenger and towing vessels as yet do not require such safety improvements.

Briefly defined, SMS is a process by which an organization continually monitors operations and collects appropriate data to identify emerging and developing safety problems before they result in death, injury or significant property loss. Recorders support SMS programs by providing management with critical first-hand information on ship operations. And in the event of an accident, such as the Costa Concordia, recorded data may answer the difficult questions: What? Why? Where? When? In 2011, recognizing the value of SMS programs and recorders, the National Transportation Safety Board placed both issues on our Most Wanted List.

Last week, I had the opportunity to give two presentations addressing these issues, one at the American Waterways Annual Meeting of the Midwest, Ohio, and Southern Regions and one at the Passenger Vessel Association’s Annual Convention at Maritrends 2012. I encouraged attendees to consider incorporating SMS and recorders in their operations as methods for enhancing both safety and business effectiveness. I had no doubts that this would be well-received by members of organizations so committed to safety improvements; AWO already requires its Responsible Carrier Program, and PVA is currently developing SMS guidelines. What is more notable is that these organizations have done so voluntarily, without Federal requirements. Such initiative shows us that safety truly can be paramount whenever vessels ply the water.

Earl F. Weener, Ph.D., took the oath of office as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010.

Member Weener is a licensed pilot who has dedicated his entire career to the field of aviation safety.

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