The U.S. Coast Guard has issued an interim rule to begin the process of ensuring that fire safety protocols are being followed on certain small passenger vessels. The interim rule has added a number of fire safety requirements to the existing mandate, particularly those involving adequate avenues of escape, proper crew training in firefighting procedures, and functional monitoring and fire detection devices. The interim rule was issued on December 27, 2021, and the majority of its provisions take effect on March 28, 2022.
Changes to Fire Safety Procedures to Protect Maritime Workers and Passengers
The mandate was issued in response to the fatal fire incident on the dive boat Conception off the coast of California on September 2, 2019. Around 3:00 a.m., a fire began on the main deck directly above the lower berthing area where the 33 passengers and 1 crew member were sleeping, all of whom lost their lives.
Title 46 of the United States Code (U.S.C.), section 3306, was amended by Section 8441 of the Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020 (2020 CGAA) to direct the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prescribe fire safety regulations for certain “covered small passenger vessels” (SPVs) with overnight accommodations for passengers.
The rule is primarily designed to protect passengers, and applies to anyone traveling aboard certain small passenger vessels. The 2020 CGAA added a new paragraph (n) to section 3306, which requires the Secretary to issue interim requirements for the following provisions:
- Crew firefighting and emergency egress training
- Improved fire detection and firefighting equipment in passenger and crew areas
- Monitoring devices to ensure the wakefulness of night watchmen
- Increased fire detection and suppression systems in unmanned areas where machinery or other potential heat sources are located
- Updating “means of escape" regulations so that older vessels meet the requirements of new vessels
- Multiple unobstructed means of escape (that are not dependent on a berth)
- Safe handling procedures for the operation and storage of potentially hazardous items (such as batteries)
- Passenger emergency evacuation drills
- Providing notice of the emergency egress plan for the vessel
Will My Vessel Be Affected?
The interim rule could affect a variety of passengers, particularly those on vessels included in 46 CFR Subchapters K (§ 114.110) and T (§ 175.110). Certain small passenger vessels that operate on a Coastwise or Oceans route must:
- Install interconnected fire detection systems in all areas where passengers and crew have routine access, including dining areas, sleeping quarters, and lounges
- Install portable fire extinguishers on existing vessels so that they meet the same current regulatory requirements for new vessels
- Develop proper handling, storage, and operation techniques for flammable items (such as lithium-ion batteries and rechargeable batteries)
- Develop marine firefighting training programs to improve crew member response and proficiency, including egress training for each member of the crew
In addition, vessels regulated under Subchapters K and T that are not ferries and have overnight accommodations for passengers must also:
Have at least two independent avenues of escape for all areas normally accessible to passengers that allow for unobstructed egress, located not directly above or dependent on a berth, and constructed so that if one avenue of escape is not accessible, the other is available
- Ensure that means of escape arrangements onboard existing vessels meet the same current regulatory requirements outlined for new vessels
- Install and use adequate monitoring devices to ensure the required night watch remains alert
- Conduct regular passenger emergency egress drills
- Post a passenger safety bill (that includes the vessel’s emergency egress plan) in passenger accommodation spaces
The experienced maritime injury attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer represent passengers who have been injured on all sizes of passenger ships and pleasure craft. If you were hurt due to a fire at sea, we can listen to your story, outline your options, and explain your next steps at no cost to you.
Call us at 1-800-3-MAY-DAY or fill out our online contact form today to set up your no-obligation consultation. To learn more about these types of claims, start reading your complimentary copy of our guide, Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.