Carbajal Questions Coast Guard and NTSB in Conception Boat Hearing

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WASHINGTON, D.C., November 14, 2019 | comments

Watch Carbajal committee questioning here.

Today, Rep. Salud Carbajal questioned members of the U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on safety regulations and next steps related to the Conception boat fire that took 34 lives off the coast of Santa Barbara earlier this year. The questioning occurred at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on maritime safety that Rep. Carbajal requested in the wake of the Conception tragedy.

Carbajal questioned the first panel of maritime safety witnesses on why the Conception was operating under outdated safety regulations, why the Coast Guard has ignored crucial NTSB regulations and what it would take for swift action to update vessel regulations.

“Why—why—do we need to wait until another tragedy to change our current safety rules?” said Carbajal at the hearing.

The first panel included Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy for the Coast Guard Rear Admiral Richard V. Timme; Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Maritime Association Richard Balzano; and Director of the NTSB Office of Marine Safety Brian Curtis.

Carbajal chaired the second panel of the day, facilitating questions between members of Congress and witnesses, and asking about how families can seek justice for maritime fatalities. The second panel included Cruise Lines International Association Senior Vice President Vice Admiral Brian Salerno; Passenger Vessel Association Vice President Colleen Stephens; Louisiana Association for Justice President Paul Sterbcow; Offshore Marine Service Association President Aaron Smith; and American Bureau of Shipping Vice President of Health and Safety Adam Moilanen.

The results of the NTSB investigation into the Conception boat fire are expected to be released in 2020. In today’s hearing, representatives from the Coast Guard said they were also looking into Conception safety measures. Carbajal reasserted his commitment to continue pushing the Coast Guard to implement modernized safety regulations, as recommended by the NTSB.


Carbajal’s full opening statement below:


“On September 2nd, we tragically lost 34 lives when the Conception dive boat caught on fire at 3:14 a.m. off the coast of my district in California. 

“This was the worst maritime disaster in 70 years. My condolences go out to the families of those victims. 

“Let me say that I am very grateful to the Coast Guard for their help in the search and rescue operations and to the NTSB for their continued investigation into what went wrong. 

“And, while I want to recognize the Coast Guard men and women for just doing a heroic job day in and day out on their mission—and I have a number of servicemembers in my district that do an outstanding job—I must say that, when you look at the track record of implementing the NTSB’s recommendations, it is not a good track record. 

“And since, over the years, we’ve seen tragedy after tragedy after tragedy happen, and the Coast Guard has a track record of inaction.

“While it is my understanding the NTSB is still conducting their investigation, I am disturbed by some of the reporting following this tragedy. 

“Admiral Timme, I am particularly concerned by the fact that the NTSB has continuously—for many years—advocated for the Coast Guard to implement procedures for conducting regular inspections, reporting maintenance needs for all of a boat’s system and crew training. Yet the Coast Guard has ignored many of these recommendations.

“What actions has the Coast Guard taken to make sure those recommendations are implemented, and why have they not been implemented to date? 

“It has been brought to my attention that Conception was operating under ‘old T’ safety requirements—meaning they were not following the most up to date safety rules. 

“What are some of the safety implications to continue to operate under this framework? And why—why—do we need to wait until another tragedy to change our current safety rules?”

Rep. Salud Carbajal represents California’s 24th Congressional District that includes San Luis Obispo County, part of Ventura County and Santa Barbara County, where the Conception boat fire occurred in September 2019.

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