Passenger vessel operators push back against safety management systems

Not very popular among passenger vessel operators, apparently:

In my opinion, ANY vessel which carries more than 6 passengers for hire on a near coastal route should have some sort of SMS in place and undergo periodic audits- the smaller the capacity- the less requirements.

Ferries and other vessels which carry upward of 25 people should be required to have an SMS in place which is functional as well as vessel specific- this specificity would be mostly in the areas of emergency response and emergency equipment. All of these vessels when operating near coastal or inside the boundary line should be well regulated from the environmental standpoint.

Unfortunately, when one looks at the risk matrix for incoastal (did I coin a new term?) inner city ferries the consequences of a serious accident involving fire or sinking is in the red columns… which would indicate that such occurrences would have near catastrophic result- thus the requirement for a vessel specific SMS.

Don’t misunderstand my point- the requirement should not be as stringent and encompassing as large ocean going vessels, but should be sufficient enough to bring some of the risk matrix items back into the yellow zones…

The safety inspection of merchant vessels documented under the flag of the United States has been authorized in varying degrees by Congress and required by law since 1838. In the early days, Congress hesitated to pass adequate safety laws for fear of interfering with the growing and economically important industry.

The beginning and development of a federal program arose from disasters that caused much death, injury and property loss; experience showed the greatest casualties were caused by boiler explosions and by fire aboard ship.

Not that I believe disasters are necessary to recognize risk, but I don’t accept that risk is as high as implied in the small intercity ferry systems. We shoul always ask ourselves, what problem is additional regulation intended to solve?

In the case of small passenger vessels in the US, I don’t hear about multiple incidents, much less disasters. The few that have happened recently (Conception, Ride the Ducks) seem to have been related to a failure to comply with regulations and standard operating procedures already in place. Would a SMS really have made a difference?

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I honestly believe that it would… Is it possible that we’re not “hearing” about mishaps? Let’s think about the pure numbers and traffic though… There are a lot of smaller ferries running like cross-borough in NYC, not to mention other places…

I suppose it is possible we are not hearing about small mishaps or large near-misses, but I don’t think it is possible to not hear about serious incidents. If an incident involves a death or even serious injury of passengers or crew, it is certain to show up in the NTSB incident reports.

So your argument about a lot of smaller ferries like NYC Ferry kind of prove my point. I have no first hand experience of them, but there hasn’t been a single NTSB report for that system. The last similar NTSB report I can recall was the Seastreak incident. And I don’t think an SMS would have prevented that.

Edit: I was referring to the 2014 Seastreak Wall Street incident that injured 80 passengers. I see that another Seastreak vessel ran aground this past weekend requiring 125 passengers and crew to be evacuated. But apparently only one minor crew injury.

“Review how the crew implements requirements set forth in the COI” and “Monthly test and inspection of fire detection and suppression systems” are precisely the sort of items that show up in a bare bones SMS. Its efficacy would be subject to it being seen as anything other than paperwork bullshit, which is at least partially a question of enforcement and education, at least if the situation in Norway is anything to go by…

I don’t understand your point.

Well… let’s pull this string a little using the Conception incident as a case. The owner/operator applied for and received a COI that explicitly calls out the need for a roving watch at all times while passengers are aboard. The Master (assuming competent) would have had to have read the COI at some point. And the COI was posted conspicuously on the wall of the wheelhouse, for pete’s sake.

You’re implying that this wasn’t enough to inform the Master that he should have been enforcing a roving watch? Instead, since there was no requirement to review how the crew implements the requirements set forth in the COI, it is easy to see why the requirement was ignored?

I don’t buy this argument. What tells the Master that he should review how the crew implements the requirements set forth in the SMS? Is there a separate document for that?

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This is no different than Sub M that has been put in place. The USCG will allow TPOs to issue the SMS certificate and help the companies comply with inspections on behalf of the USCG. This will come at cost, but not in my honest opinion that much, nor the need to hire personnel within the company. That is the function of the TPO.

These companies will probably be the same that do these vessels (ABS, Sabine, etc)

There are certainly things to suggest that this was indeed the sad state of affairs, not only on the Conception, but throughout a sizeable segment of subchapter T.

My point is that setting internal audits in a systematic framework helps to break force of habit, or rather to establish new, healthier ones. At least that’s the idea…

…but then there’s the bit where it can’t be treated as paperwork bullshit.

There’s an assumption being that if there is no formal, legal requirement for a SMS than none exists. Of course that’s not the case. There have always been systems of one kind or another in place.

It’s more obvious at large organizations operating many large vessels then smaller outfits but there’s always going to be some kind of system.

I think an effective SMS would absolutely change the gam, as now an independent third party conducts audits for compliance with the system. This takes compliance with company and regulatory rules the a new level meaning a regular part of operations rather than just something to worry about after an incident. And the list of small passenger vessel incidence is pretty large. A lot more than just the Conception and ride a duck… Staten Island Ferry allision with several fatalities, a pontoon boat in Baltimore harbor… here are quite a few…

Great point. I penned a response to the USCG ANPRM for this and pointed out that the small passenger vessels in the oil and gas industry ( mostly crew boats) have been using SMS for over a decade. You could not get a contract in the patch without it, driven by the customers. I hope the take into account existing SMS when they craft the new regulations similar to what was done with Subchapter M.

that owner says he can’t even find bartenders etc. !! I’d think there has to be someway to separate those good operators from the less desirable ones. We all realize there are good operators out there that just can’t afford what in their case would be superfluous expense while other ‘boat owners’ haven’t a clue what can happen.

An SMS if developed to comply with ISM code is very scalable. And as the ISM code is very non-prescriptive it has been successful all over the world and with a large variety of vessels. If a good operator is already taking care of his business, there should not be a huge change other than fitting their best practices into a ISM based SMS template.

The use of SMS in U.S. domestic SPVs is not new. The International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention (ISM Code) was adopted by the IMO as Resolution A.741 (18), in November 1993. It came into force on 1 July 1998 as SOLAS Chapter IX, ‘‘Management for the Safe Operation of Ships’’. Under these provisions the ISM code became applicable to all passenger vessels carrying 12 or more passengers on international voyages regardless of size. The United States being a signatory to the SOLAS convention developed an ISM Code rulemaking in 1997 for the implementation of the ISM code in U.S. flagged vessels.

At the time of the ISM Code rulemaking in 1997, the USCG developed an ISM Code equivalence for some inspected SPVs because the USCG felt that ISM Code certification of the required SMS, in accordance with all the requirements of 33 CFR Part 96, was too extensive for these vessels with limited company personnel, routes and operations. It was decided to allow an equivalent certification system more tailored to these vessels and companies. The results of this were regulations for implementing an equivalent SMS onboard SPVs in lieu of the normal ISM Code certification and can be found in 46 CFR §175.540. I know of several 1-3 boat companies that have had a USCG certified ISM compliant SMS for over a decade now.

that sounds a lot better than the way the article sounded, (what i read of it). I sailed deep sea (engineering) and am by and large ignorant of these particulars but I think it bothers me more seeing peoples lives in the hands of some outfit that has never been to sea than a struggling operator who can’t find sufficient help! At the same time, I have sympathy for those excellent private operators facing another hurdle.

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