Editorial: Public Demand for Commerce – Going “All In” To Eliminate Accidents

Editorial
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October 26, 2016

Hudson River Rescue by BM2 Foster, USCG

By Capt. George H Livingstone

I recently saw the movie “Sully”, I recommend it to anyone with an interest in aviation or marine transportation.  It is a Clint Eastwood Directed movie about Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s first ever (successful) emergency water landing of Flight 1592.  Something considered technically impossible prior to his successful execution of it on the Hudson River. 

As a mariner, captain and pilot I was interested in the NTSB investigation as it played out in the movie which got me fact checking.  In the movie, the NTSB investigating committee was critical of Capt. Sully’s decision to make a water landing, indicating a landing at one of the New York airports would have been a far wiser and safer decision.  Commenting directly on that, Mr. Malcolm Brenner (part of the NTSB’s actual investigation of the accident), recently told Bloomberg News “There was no effort to crucify him or embarrass him”…“If there were questions, it was to learn things.”  In contrast, Capt. Sullenberger himself, told the New York Times that the investigation was “inherently adversarial, with professional reputations absolutely in the balance.”  Whatever the movie did or did not portray correctly, the NTSB and Capt. Sullenberger certainly have different takes on the actual investigation.  Given the NTSB is the National Transportation Safety Board, perhaps there is a takeaway here for them?  

It’s a big world, mostly (70%) covered by water.  There are thousands of ships and tens of thousands of smaller craft like tugs/barges working on it every day.  Thousands of vessels, the world over, driven by one thing, Public Demand for Commerce.  That’s you, me, neighbors, friends, enemies, conservatives, liberals, environmentalists; everyone you know, have ever known or will know.  Each of us are directly responsible for every mile traveled by every vessel on God’s Blue and Green earth.  Make no mistake, it is not someone else driving world trade, it’s you.   

In mid-October of this year, an American tug/barge unit went aground near Bella Bella, British Columbia in a remote part of the famed “Inland Passage” of Canada.  In the same time period, a passenger ship hit the jetties while inbound to the port of Nice, France causing a hole below the waterline.  A ship being maneuvered in the port of Houston suffered a loss of power causing it to ground on an underwater obstacle resulting in a spectacular explosion and fire.  A semi-submersible being towed from Scotland to Turkish scrap yards broke free from the tug towing it and went hard aground in Scotland’s Western Isles.  Where am I going here? 

  1. Worldwide public demand for movement of commerce and people guarantees said movement -worldwide
  2. Public demand for safety is certain. Responsible working professionals understand that
  3. Safety is far more complicated than the general public realizes
  4. National safety agencies like the NTSB (USA), ATSB (Australia), MAIB (UK) are not necessarily subject matter experts.  For hundreds of years maritime accidents were adjudicated in Admiralty courts by Admiralty Judges.  When those cases went to civil and criminal courts vital expertise was lost.  Maritime professionals sincerely hope they can rely on the reputational integrity of national safety agencies to be unbiased, fair and expertly informed.  

Is it hypocritical to get in one’s giant SUV, fill it with gas, drive the family to the airport for a European vacation and take no accountability for where the world presently finds itself regarding international transportation?  Is it irresponsible for working maritime and aviation professionals in command not to acknowledge, “The Public Trust” is in their hands?  Is it arrogant if national safety agencies conduct accident investigations under the general assumption they know better than the subject matter experts walking the walk every day?

We are “all in” on this, whether public, working transportation professional or national safety & regulatory agency; all of us are accountable, no excuses.  Although much effort is put into eliminating accidents, the probability is they continue.  Let us all work meaningfully and effectively to reduce their impact on Public Safety and the planet.

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