The United States Coast Guard announced on December 27, 2021 that it is issuing a new set of interim rules on small passenger vessel (SPV) fire safety. These interim rules are the first steps taken by the Coast Guard to implement Congress's mandate to increase protections against passenger and crew injuries aboard certain small passenger vessels after the September 2, 2019 fire aboard D/V CONCEPTION. That fire incident resulted in the wrongful death of 33 passengers and one crewmember. The interim rules include:
Marine firefighting training programs to improve crewmember training and proficiency, including egress training for each member of the crew;
Interconnected fire detection equipment and additional fire extinguishers and firefighting equipment in all areas on board where passengers and crew have access;
Installation and use of monitoring devices to ensure wakefulness of the required night watch (for covered SPVs with overnight passenger accommodations);
Increased fire detection and suppression systems in unmanned areas with machinery or areas with other potential heat sources;
No less than two independent avenues of escape for all general areas accessible to passengers, that are constructed and arranged to allow for unobstructed egress, located so that if one avenue of escape is not available, another avenue of escape is available, and not directly above, or dependent on, a berth (for covered SPVs with overnight passenger accommodations);
Handling, storage, and operation of flammable items, such as rechargeable batteries, including lithium-ion batteries;
Requirements for passenger emergency egress drills (for covered SPVs with overnight passenger accommodations); and
Providing all passengers a copy of the emergency egress plan for the vessel (for covered SPVs with overnight passenger accommodations).
These new rules were announced in the federal register and are available for free here.
Accidents aboard small passenger vessels unfortunately continue to injure and kill both passengers and crewmembers every year. It is critical that vessel owners and operators protect these vulnerable classes. Injured seamen serving aboard commercial passenger vessels may have a claim under the Jones Act, unseaworthiness, maintenance and cure, and maritime law. Injured passengers may also have a claim for negligence. If you were injured and have questions about passenger vessel safety and compensation under admiralty law, call (253) 600-2531 and ask for a free consultation with an experienced maritime lawyer.