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USCG Announces New Fire Safety Rules for Passenger Vessels

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

December 28, 2021

The 75-foot recreational diving vessel Conception was anchored in Platts Harbor off Santa Cruz Island when it caught fire in the early morning of Sept. 2, 2019. All 33 passengers and one of six crewmembers died of smoke inhalation after they were trapped in the berthing area while a fire raged on the deck above. Both exits from the berthing area led to the fire and smoke-filled enclosed area above. (Photo: Ventura County Fire Department)

The 75-foot recreational diving vessel Conception was anchored in Platts Harbor off Santa Cruz Island when it caught fire in the early morning of Sept. 2, 2019. All 33 passengers and one of six crewmembers died of smoke inhalation after they were trapped in the berthing area while a fire raged on the deck above. Both exits from the berthing area led to the fire and smoke-filled enclosed area above. (Photo: Ventura County Fire Department)

The U.S. Coast Guard announced in the Federal Register that it is issuing an interim rule as the first step to implementing the statutorily mandated requirements for fire safety on certain covered small passenger vessels. This statutory mandate is in response to the fire and loss of life on the dive boat Conception off the coast of California on September 2, 2019. This interim rule adds additional fire safety requirements for small passenger vessels, including fire detection and suppression systems, avenues of escape, egress drills, crew firefighting training, watchmen monitoring devices, and the handling of flammable items such as rechargeable batteries.

Section 8441 of the Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020 (2020 CGAA) amended Title 46 of the United States Code (U.S.C.), section 3306, which now directs the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prescribe fire safety regulations for certain “covered small passenger vessels,” defined as small passenger vessels (SPVs) with overnight accommodations for passengers or operating on Oceans or Coastwise routes, excluding fishing vessels and ferries. (See Pub. L. 116-283, January 1, 2021.) The 2020 CGAA added a new paragraph (n) to section 3306 which requires the Secretary to issue interim requirements to cover the following eight provisions:

  1. Marine firefighting training programs to improve crewmember training and proficiency, including egress training for each member of the crew;
  2. Interconnected fire detection equipment and additional fire extinguishers and firefighting equipment in all areas on board where passengers and crew have access;
  3. Installation and use of monitoring devices to ensure wakefulness of the required night watch (for covered SPVs with overnight passenger accommodations);
  4. Increased fire detection and suppression systems in unmanned areas with machinery or areas with other potential heat sources;
  5. No less than two independent avenues of escape for all general areas accessible to passengers, that are constructed and arranged to allow for unobstructed egress, located so that if one avenue of escape is not available, another avenue of escape is available, and not directly above, or dependent on, a berth (for covered SPVs with overnight passenger accommodations);
  6. Handling, storage, and operation of flammable items, such as rechargeable batteries, including lithium-ion batteries;
  7. Requirements for passenger emergency egress drills (for covered SPVs with overnight passenger accommodations); and
  8. Providing all passengers a copy of the emergency egress plan for the vessel (for covered SPVs with overnight passenger accommodations).

This interim rule is effective March 28, 2022, except for amendatory instruction numbers 13, 14, 29, and 31 adding of §  122.507(b), amending 122.515, adding 185.507(b), and adding 185.515(a), respectively, which are delayed indefinitely. The Coast Guard will publish a document in the Federal Register announcing the effective date of those additions.

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