Coast Guard:

Additional Actions Needed to Improve Cruise Ship Safety

RCED-93-103: Published: Mar 31, 1993. Publicly Released: Apr 7, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Coast Guard's program for examining safety conditions aboard foreign cruise ships, focusing on whether: (1) flag nations' cruise ship safety oversight was adequate; and (2) international standards for shipboard fire fighting training and emergency information were sufficient.

GAO found that: (1) international safety standards did not adequately address shipboard safety problems including inoperable fire doors, improperly designed escape routes, and inadequate escape drills; (2) reasons for safety problems included inadequate inspections and varying safety standard interpretations; (3) the Coast Guard could not effectively use its safety examination program due to recording and analytical deficiencies in examinations and a lack of formal international safety standard training for inspectors; (4) some cruise ship personnel were not proficient in responding to shipboard fires because of inadequate international training standards, outdated training information, and the lack of shipboard instruction and drills for fire fighting crews; (5) cruise ship emergency information lacked clear emergency symbols and cabin information to sufficiently assist passengers; and (6) although the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has proposed improvements to shipboard emergency information, many problems persist.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard has established a Human Factors Coordination Committee which promotes a comprehensive system approach on standards development. The committee coordinates Coast Guard efforts on human factors issues, such as training, safety design, and passenger safety instructions (signs and symbols).

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the U.S. Coast Guard to develop a coordinated position that incorporates the efforts of the various Coast Guard groups working on emergency escape standards and promote this more comprehensive "system" approach at IMO.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An IMO resolution recommends issuing a special certificate for attending a fire-fighting course when fire-fighting training is not already included in the qualification for another certificate. Consistent with the GAO recommendation, the Coast Guard proposed and supported revisions to STCW that make implementing this recommendation mandatory. As noted above, the Coast Guard also proposed requiring courses in fire-fighting for shipboard fire-fighting crews. Fire-fighting training is currently required by STCW for the master, deck, and engineer officers only.

    Recommendation: To improve passenger vessel crews' preparedness in fighting shipboard fires, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the U.S. representatives to IMO to propose that international conventions be amended to establish qualifications for certifying crew members responsible for shipboard fire fighting, similar to certifications currently required of lifeboat operators.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Under a current IMO resolution, the ability to extinguish actual fires is included as part of the practical elements of the basic firefighting course recommended for all seafarers. The Coast Guard proposal to revise the STCW Convention includes making this course mandatory. Also, new developments in shipboard firefighting systems and procedures are planned to be reflected in the course content.

    Recommendation: To improve passenger vessel crews' preparedness in fighting shipboard fires, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the U.S. representatives to IMO to propose that international conventions be amended to require that these courses be regularly updated and include experience extinguishing actual fires.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard proposed revisions to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchstanding for Seafarers (STCW) to mandate courses in fire-fighting training for crew members assigned to fire parties on passenger ships. Currently, STCW requires fire-fighting training only for the master, deck, and engineer officers. The IMO Secretary has set 1995 as the target date for completing STCW revisions.

    Recommendation: To improve passenger vessel crews' preparedness in fighting shipboard fires, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the U.S. representatives to IMO to propose that international conventions be amended to require that IMO-recommended basic and advanced shipboard fire fighting courses be made mandatory for all crew members assigned to fire squads.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard established a Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) training fund at the Marine Safety Office in Miami to immediately upgrade inspector SOLAS training. A formal SOLAS training program to provide marine inspectors with this training was implemented at the end of FY 1993. In addition, the curriculum for the Inspection Department course at the Coast Guard Reserve Training Center has been revised. Marine inspectors are now taught appropriate SOLAS requirements in conjunction with the U.S. regulations for all shipboard inspection areas.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to require that inspectors performing cruise ship safety examinations receive formal International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea Training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Coast Guard has upgraded its marine safety computer software to better capture results, with emphasis on tracking deficiencies, of its foreign passenger vessel examinations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to develop a cruise ship safety program management component, as part of the inspector module of the Marine Safety Network project, to allow the Coast Guard to consistently document and analyze the results of cruise ship safety examinations. The system should also allow the Coast Guard to monitor the effectiveness of flag nations' and classification societies' enforcement of cruise ship safety standards.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As part of a new IMO subcommittee on "Flag State Implementation," the Coast Guard submitted a paper, consistent with the intent of the recommendation, on guidelines for flag states. It also submitted a paper on minimum standards for classification societies. IMOs approved these papers in November 1993. The Coast Guard also said that its policy was to bring recurring problems associated with foreign vessels to the attention of IMO authorities in order to obtain an international consensus for a solution.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Commandant of the Coast Guard to petition IMO to require flag nations to submit information on inspection practices and provide IMO with examples of recurring problems it has identified with flag nation or classification society inspection or survey practices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Consistent with the overall intent of the GAO recommendation, the Coast Guard made several proposals to appropriate IMO elements that address escape systems on passenger vessels. Some of the Coast Guard's proposals have been approved. For example, one approved proposal updated the IMO resolution on emergency symbols and pictographs to include other symbols such as directional signs and emergency exits. It also provided guidelines for developing emergency escape diagrams and instructions to passengers, and recommended conspicuous placement in passenger cabins near the door, at muster stations, and in other passenger spaces. IMO, however, rejected GAO's recommendation to use only "non-nautical" emergency terminology because it considered words such as "muster" and "embarkation" to be well understood. The Coast Guard noted that any confusion surrounding the words would be minimized in the future because of the proposed symbols standardization.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure that the Coast Guard's "Emergency Escape Arrangements for Passenger Ships" proposal addresses deficiencies identified in other proposals by requiring the use of: (1) a single standard of emergency symbols and nonnautical emergency terminology; (2) more specific measurements to assist in the standardization of emergency escape requirements; and (3) emergency diagrams in all public areas, stairwells, and emergency stations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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