Most Wanted List Progress Report: Marine Safety

By Member Christopher A. Hart

 The NTSB is releasing a series of blogs highlighting the progress the transportation community is making in each mode to advance issues on our 2017–2018 Most Wanted List. This series sheds light on the progress made and what needs to be done going forward to improve transportation safety. This is the first blog of the series. 

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Member Christopher Hart and Brian Curtis, Director, NTSB Office of Marine Safety at MWL midpoint meeting.

It’s been just over a year since we released our 2017–2018 Most Wanted List (MWL) of transportation safety improvements, so we decided to check in with stakeholders on our collective progress toward addressing these important safety issues. I had the opportunity to join in the discussion with our Office of Marine Safety and representatives from the US Coast Guard (USCG), the American Pilots’ Association, and the Cruise Lines International Association, and I came away encouraged that progress is being made on the issue areas that most affect our Marine safety efforts: expanding recorder use, ending alcohol and drug impairment, requiring medical fitness, and eliminating distractions.

Expanding requirements for voyage data recorders (VDRs) remains of paramount importance to the NTSB, as underscored by the information obtained from the VDR in our recently-completed investigation of the sinking of the El Faro. We certainly appreciate the extensive and sophisticated resources that several government and non-government entities deployed to find the basketball-sized canister containing the data because it proved to be invaluable to our investigation. Operators can also use VDRs to track and monitor vessel and fleet routes, and to help them determine crew training needs. The marine representatives we spoke with at our midpoint meeting are similarly interested in moving forward with VDR requirements, especially as the technology becomes more capable, affordable, and available. We’re hopeful that our recent report on the El Faro sinking will further encourage stakeholders to take action on increasing the installation and use of VDRs.

Ending alcohol and drug impairment is another important issue that we are working with stakeholders to address. The biggest hurdle here, which we discussed at the midpoint meeting with United States Coast Guard (USCG) representatives, seems to be coordinating rulemaking between the military and civilian sectors. Civilian labor unions are reluctant to support some of the recommendations we’ve proposed, largely out of concern for the rights of their members. The USCG continues to work on this issue to coordinate and implement our recommendations aimed at addressing alcohol and drug impairment.

When our conversation turned to a related concern—requiring medical fitness—I was pleased to hear assurances that the USCG is also making progress. Since its last update, the USCG has stood up an office supporting medical fitness issues and now requires medical certificates in addition to piloting credentials.

The final marine issue we discussed at our midpoint meeting was eliminating distractions. The USCG representatives informed us that the Coast Guard has released our safety alert associated with an accident that tackles this issue (SA-059 November 2016), and it intends to continue to follow up on recommendations related to distractions.

We are always eager to hear feedback from our recommendation recipients, and this midpoint meeting was an excellent opportunity for us to make sure we fully understand the issues. We have recommendation specialists in each mode who help facilitate ongoing feedback, help with questions about our recommendation process, and discuss potential solutions.

At this 1-year mark, I’m encouraged and hopeful that we’re making progress on these important safety issues, and I look forward to seeing the NTSB and our recommendation recipients continue to work together to address them.

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