6/15/2017: Remarks by Marine Safety Center commanding officer at Int’l Maritime Safety Conference

Earlier this week, Capt. John Mauger, commanding officer of the Marine Safety Center, delivered a keynote address at the opening of the third annual International Maritime Safety Conference in Busan, Korea. Mauger attended the conference as an invited guest of the Korean Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and the city of Busan in order to share Coast Guard perspectives on maritime safety. The conference was attended by hundreds of participants from Asia, Europe and the Americas and covered a wide range of topics from casualty investigation, salvage, risk analysis, human element, big data, and automation. Mauger’s remarks are not as delivered, but are summarized for Maritime Commons.

Capt. John Mauger, commanding officer, Marine Safety Center

“Over the course of the International Maritime Safety Conference we will hear from leading experts representing flag administrations, classification societies, industry and academics about how risk analysis, the human element, and emerging trends such as automation, environmental compliance and big data affect maritime safety.

My presentation brings together these themes by highlighting lessons learned from past casualties, the changes that were made, and the challenges we are facing in the future. The good news is that as an industry, we continue to study and learn from the lessons of history. As a result we have made shipping safer. However, we must continue to challenge ourselves, because the world around us is changing at an accelerating pace.

There are many sources of information readily available to learn from maritime casualties. The International Maritime Organization, flag Administrations, classification societies, marine insurers, and professional organizations all publish regular reports and statistics with respect to maritime casualties. Over time, these casualty investigations and analyses have become the foundation for long-standing values within the regulatory bodies. Over the last century, the fires onboard the General Slocum, Morro Castle, Yarmouth Castle, Viking Princess, and Star Princess were instrumental in forming the U.S.’s strong support for non-combustible construction and passive fire protection in the maritime industry. A series of deadly tanker fires and explosions in the 1960’s and 1970’s, including the collisions between the Sea Witch and Esso Brussels in New York Harbor, the collision between the Edgar M Queeny and Corinthos in the Delaware Bay, and the explosions onboard the Sansinenia while transferring cargo in Los Angeles/Long Beach led to international requirements for cargo tank inerting, and additional U.S. requirements for oil and chemical tankers calling on U.S. ports.

These and other changes have clearly had a positive impact on maritime safety. Statistical data indicates that the rate of accidents has decreased at the same time that the global tonnage has grown dramatically over the last several decades. While this is a promising trend, current and future changes in the maritime environment are impacting maritime safety and may affect this trend.

The maritime industry is currently facing a triple challenge. Maritime stakeholders are trying to increase the capacity of the Maritime Transportation System, while reducing the environmental impact. In order to accomplish these opposing goals, the vessels, operations, and maritime system as a whole has grown increasingly complex. These three challenges: increasing capacity, reducing environmental impact and managing complexity are driving the industry and maritime regulators to new technologies (cyber systems), new fuels (liquefied natural gas and batteries), and new operating models. The U.S. Coast Guard is confronting these challenges using the same basic concept of operations that has served us well over the course of the past decades. Within this concept of operations, we are working on addressing the emerging elements (cyber, environmental protection, alternative fuels) by developing the requisite expertise and building the foundational requirements.

While I am confident that we will be able to address these technical challenges, it is important that we remain focused on the human element and promoting safety culture. Some of the most difficult lessons we have learned are from casualties like the 1983 sinking of the Marine Electric or the 1988 fire onboard Piper Alpha. These casualties remind us that lax safety cultures and the implicit acceptance of sub-standard conditions can be equally detrimental to maritime safety.

I look forward to a rich discussion about maritime safety, its past, present and future during this conference. Please continue to study and share your insights on how we deal with these emerging challenges. But remember that the truly difficult challenges for us to address may not be the technically complex ones, but rather the routine, daily acceptance of risk and lax safety. So most importantly, as you go forward, please continue to exercise your leadership in furthering maritime safety.”

To learn more about some of the maritime disasters mentioned above or the Coast Guard’s role in prevention and response throughout history, visit our Historian’s website


This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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