The US Coast Guard has started performing unannounced inspections on cruise ships, with the aim to identify ships with repeated patterns of safety problems.
Speaking at a forum on safety onboard vessels organised by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) at Washington, NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said the agency had never held a hearing on a cruise ship incident because it’s jurisdiction only stretches 12 miles from shore.
"More serious accidents and incidents can only be headed off by continually seeking safety improvements," Hersman said.
"The dead weight of complacency may be one of the few things that can darken this booming industry’s bright outlook."
The US Coast Guard ship inspection policy captain Eric Christensen said that twice-a-year inspections of 140 cruise ships based at US ports in 2013 found 351 deficiencies, most frequently problems with fire doors and lifeboats.
Cruise ships must ensure that all safety problems identified by Coast Guard are addressed.
All recent incidents were discussed at the forum, including the Carnival Triumph’s fire accident in 2013, Carnival Splendor’s power outage in 2010 and the drowning of Costa Concordia in 2012.
Hersman said these recent accidents and others aboard increasingly gigantic ships, some of which can carry 6,000 passengers and 2,000 crew members, underscore the need to ensure the safety of every voyage.
"When a passenger steps onto a cruise ship, they have the right to expect the safest vessel possible," Hersman added.
Other topics that were discussed during the forum include accident investigations, ship design, vessel operations, emergency response and corporate oversight.