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Congress Sneaked in Passenger Ship Safety Cuts During Fiscal Cliff Confusion

Maritime writer and author Robert R. Frump uncovers Congress handcuffs Coast Guard inspections of passenger vessel life saving devices


Summit, NJ -- (ReleaseWire) -- 02/18/2013 --Congress quietly sneaked through amendments to the Coast Guard authorization bill that delay the requirement that passenger vessels upgrade their life-preserver devices from old-fashioned life rings to modern out-of-water flotation devices, according to Robert R. Frump, a nationally recognized journalist and author who writes about maritime issues on his blog , Frumped.

"The bill was amended very quietly on December 5th, as everyone was focused on the end-of-year Fiscal Cliff issues," Frump said. "This is a huge setback for maritime safety advocates."

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a Republican from the coastal district of New Jersey, whose campaign received more than $100,000 from cruise lines and other transportation lobbying groups, appears to have been responsible for quietly sabotaging the implementation of important safety regulations for passenger vessels, Frump writes.

The revision to the bill delays implementation of rules that would have gone into effect in 2015. The Passenger Vessel Association, a lobbying group, boasted that it "had Congress delay" the implementation for study.

Studies on the measure first began 30 years ago. It has been a given that life preservers that hold human bodies into cold water are far less effective than those which keep people out of the water.

The handcuffing of the Coast Guard occurs ironically just two months after advanced life saving devices helped save the lives of the crew of the HMS Bounty — the tall ship that sank during superstorm Sandy.

At stake is the question of whether passenger craft such as casino ships, whale watching boats, dinner cruise ships and fishing “head boats” are required to adapt the modern equipment — or continue to use centuries old life rings.

The last minute house measures requires the Coast Guard to study the issue. The proposal to move to the new devices first was proposed by the Coast Guard in the late 1980s. Most impartial maritime experts consider the matter settled — and settled many years ago.

Frump, along with Timothy Dwyer, received the George Polk Award for covering the wreck of the SS Marine Electric in 1983. Their stories and survivor testimony helped create sweeping reforms that among things created the now famous US Coast Guard Rescue Swimmers program. Frump is the author Until the Sea Shall Free Them, an account of the wreck of the Marine Electric that is on the Coast Guard's recommended reading list.

Robert R. Frump is an author and journalist who covers the maritime industry and African wildlife issues. He lives and works in the New York City area now, but grew up in rural Illinois. He has worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Bulletin and was managing editor of The Journal of Commerce