Congressman Elijah E. Cummings convened the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation to receive a report developed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on the circumstances surrounding the allision of the COSCO BUSAN with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge on November 7, 2007. This report was originally requested by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and Chairman Cummings following a hearing of the Subcommittee convened in last November to begin examining this incident. At the conclusion of today’s hearing, Chairman Cummings released the following statement:
“Among other results, the OIG found that five of the six individuals assigned as marine casualty investigators in Sector San Francisco were unqualified for these positions. Three of these unqualified individuals responded to the COSCO BUSAN allision and, apparently as a result of their lack of training, failed to secure critical, perishable evidence during the course of their investigation.
“As I have repeatedly said, the Coast Guard is being stretched by the increased mission responsibilities assigned to it. I am not afraid that the service will break – but I am afraid that it will become too thin in many areas to be fully effective – and I believe that marine safety is one of the areas where holes are beginning to show.
“Congress has the duty to ensure that the Coast Guard has the resources it needs to perform the missions demanded of it. However, the service must also tell us what its needs are.
“I was shocked and dismayed to hear that after a year and a half serving as the Assistant Commandant for Marine Safety, Security, and Stewardship, Rear Admiral Brian Salerno, who testified before the Subcommittee today, admitted that he did not know that five of the six marine casualty investigator billets in Sector San Francisco were filled with unqualified individuals until the OIG report was released. Rear Admiral Salerno was also unable to say how common such a situation is across other Coast Guard sectors.
“Admiral Salerno has promised that within two weeks, he will have taken steps to reiterate to Sectors the need to adhere to guidance already in place that requires investigations to be conducted by qualified investigators. While this is a positive step, we need to ensure that a qualified investigator is assigned to every investigator billet – which is something that in its response to the OIG’s report, the Coast Guard has agreed to do.
“For that reason, I have written today to the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen, to ask for a detailed plan within 45 days that provides the following information:
1. The number of fully qualified marine casualty investigators – both military and civilian – in or working for the Coast Guard;
2. The number of marine casualty investigator billets currently in existence at all Coast Guard sectors; and,
3. An explanation of how the Coast Guard will ensure that a qualified marine casualty investigator is assigned to each casualty investigator billet and specifying the date by which that will be accomplished or explaining why this cannot currently be accomplished.
“It is unacceptable that a team of unqualified casualty investigators should respond to any marine casualty – and particularly one involving a 900-foot ocean going vessel leaking thousands of gallons of oil into a sensitive environmental area. We can and we must do better.”