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Gibbs Statement from Hearing on Commercial and Passenger Vessel Safety

Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Ranking Member Bob Gibbs (R-OH) from today’s hearing entitled, “Commercial and Passenger Vessel Safety in the U.S.: Challenges and Opportunities”:

Last Sunday marked the 44th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior, made famous in the modern-day folk song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  The entire crew of 29 was lost, so it is appropriate that we hold this hearing on maritime safety this week. 

Sadly, we have had three significant marine casualties on U.S.-flag vessel in the last four years on which nearly 90 lives were lost – the El Faro, the Missouri duck boat, and most recently the Conception.  In response to the Commandant of the Coast Guard’s El Faro accident Final Action Memo, Congress adopted the HAMM Alert Maritime Safety Act to assure the recommendations in that memo were implemented.  The Subcommittee looks forward to receiving the Final Action Memo on the Conception tragedy when it is complete. 

Today’s witnesses will discuss changes made in the year since Congress passed the HAMM Maritime Alert Act, and in the near-decade since Congress passed the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act of 2010. 

We will also examine the dramatically expanded Coast Guard maritime safety workload and how the Service is coping with that increased workload.  In 2004, Congress brought ferries under Coast Guard inspection.  In 2006, Congress brought towing vessels under an inspection regime, though that regime is only now being implemented.  Finally, in 2010, Congress established new examination and classification requirements for fishing vessels.

Having brought nearly 75,000 vessels under additional scrutiny, the Coast Guard has received virtually no additional resources to carry out its marine safety work.  This has led to increased use of third-party inspections.  I look forward to hearing today what actions are being taken to ensure the Coast Guard has sufficient authority to oversee this increased use of third-party inspectors, and to maintain its own in-house expertise. 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing

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