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New Fire Safety Requirements for Small Passenger Vessels Included in the National Defense Authorization Act (FY2021)

In the wake of the deadly fire aboard D/V CONCEPTION in September 2019, lawmakers have advanced a new fire safety bill for small passenger vessels, the Small Passenger Vessel Safety Act.  The legislation was proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representatives Salud Carbajal and Julia Brownley.  It was rolled into the National Defense Authorization Act of FY2021 (“NDAA”) reports the maritime executive.

In substance, the law would require the Secretary of Transportation to create new fire safety regulations for small passenger vessels.  All of the new regulations would be aimed at deficiencies identified by the National Transportation Safety Board during the investigation of the D/V CONCEPTION fire.  The proposed law necessitates:

  • Interconnected fire detection, protection, and suppression equipment in passenger spaces;
  • Increased fire detection, protection, and suppression equipment in passenger spaces;
  • Two or more escape routes in passenger spaces;
  • Increased firefighting training for small passenger vessel crew;
  • Stricter rules on handling lithium ion batteries and other flammables; and
  • Requiring small passenger vessels to operate with safety management systems (SMS).

Congress has agreed on the final version of the NDAA, but the bill may still be vetoed by President Donald Trump for reasons unrelated to the Small Passenger Vessel Safety Act.

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