What is the Small Passenger Vessel Safety Act?

Congress recently introduced a bill to update maritime regulations to address the danger of fires on covered small passenger vessels. One of the bill’s sponsors noted that older boats were grandfathered in and exempt from newer vessel safety rules. He describes the bill as seeking to modernize maritime safety in a way that is both practical and imperative. The bill requires new standards be set for covered small passenger vessels that would mandate:

  • Interconnected fire detection, protection, and suppression equipment in all areas where passengers have access
  • Precautions be taken in handling and storage of flammable items
  • At least two means of escape be provided and exit to different parts of the vessel

The bill defines covered small passenger vessels as being either:

  • Less than 100 gross tons and carrying no more than 49 passengers for overnight domestic voyages or 150 passengers for all other voyages; or
  • Any wooden vessel constructed prior to March 11, 1996 that carries passengers on overnight domestic voyages.

Fire on the Conception

The bill is in response to the recent tragedy in California where a fire on a small vessel dive boat killed all passengers on board. The Conception was carrying over 30 passengers and several SCUBA tanks for a three-day excursion. It was a 75-foot vessel built in 1981. The fire broke out overnight while the passengers were asleep in a compartment below deck. None of the crew were able to reach the passengers to help them escape.

The vessel was badly burned and sank, making it difficult to investigate and determine the exact cause of the fire. U.S. Coast Guard inspections did not detect any violations. Earlier inspections found some fire safety-related deficiencies that were promptly corrected. The vessel was equipped with an escape hatch and stairway, fire extinguishers, and smoke and heat alarms.

The incident is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. A preliminary report identified several problems that could have caused or contributed to the disaster. Smoke alarms on the vessel were not interconnected throughout the vessel. As a result, the crew above deck did not hear alarms that might have gone off below deck. It is likely that the passengers died from smoke inhalation in the bunk room due to flames blocking an emergency exit.

One crew member recalled that a number of cellphones and cameras were being charged in the galley. One theory of a possible cause of the accident is that a lithium battery being charged could have sparked and started a fire. Another theory is that the electrical system circuits could have been overloaded by the large number of devices being charged coupled with the hazards from lithium-ion battery overloading.

Cape May Maritime Injury Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Advocate for Injured Maritime Workers

Maritime accidents can leave victims injured, unable to work, and at a loss for how to obtain compensation for damages. Our experienced Cape May maritime injury lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. will review your case and fight for the compensation you rightfully deserve. Call us today at 888-999-1962 or complete an online form to set up a free initial consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Wildwood and Cape May.