A recent article in the Seattle Times titled “Recent breakdowns heighten concern about state’s fragile ferry fleet” chronicles  the challenges with  maintaining a fleet of  ferries that are, on average, 33 years old. Lynne Griffith, the Chief of the Washington State Ferries was quoted as saying “Our fleet of vessels is in operation 20 to 22 hours every day, so the window of opportunities for crews to do maintenance work is small.” That is not an acceptable answer when the lives of their passengers are at stake.

According to this article ferries missed 83 trips last year because of mechanical problems. Many of these mechanical problems are preventable such as the recent problem on the ferry TACOMA in which a wire came loose. Ms. Griffith was quoted as saying “All they had to do was tighten down the screws.”

She is correct – the screws do need to be tightened down – on the Washington State Ferry system.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said that Safety Management Systems can help prevent marine casualties like the two that occurred in New York: The 2003 casualty involving the ferry ANDREW J. BARBERI that killed 11 passengers; and the 2013 casualty involving the SEASTREAK ferry that injured 80 people, 4 of them critically.

Section 610 of the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 gave the Coast Guard the authority to require operators of passenger vessels, such as the Washington State Ferry System, establish a “Safety Management System” for their vessels.

The statute specifically states:

‘‘(c) In prescribing regulations for passenger vessels and small passenger vessels, the Secretary (Coast Guard) shall consider—

‘‘(1) the characteristics, methods of operation, and nature of the service of these vessels; and

‘‘(2) with respect to vessels that are ferries, the sizes of the ferry systems within which the vessels operate.’’

It is time for the Coast Guard to prescribe, audit, and enforce requirements to implement the 2010 law and require passenger vessels in the United States to operate and maintain effective Safety Management Systems. Safety Management is good business – it will also improve the reliability of these vessels. The safety system in place clearly has not been effective if it has resulted in 83 trips being missed due to mechanical breakdowns.

No more passengers should be injured or killed because the operators fail to adequately manage their vessels and personnel.

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