GAO: Too soon to assess Coast Guard oversight changes after El Faro
Professional Mariner|September 2020
In the wake of the El Faro disaster, a federal review of a U.S. Coast Guard initiative to ensure that domestic vessels meet safety management system (SMS) standards found that it is too early to evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts.
David A. Tyler

The report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that actions taken by the Coast Guard since the tragedy have enhanced the service’s oversight of recognized organizations (ROs). These are third-party companies that the Coast Guard allows to review an operator’s SMS, issue applicable vessel certificates, and perform audits of safety plans aboard each vessel.

The Coast Guard’s steps to improve oversight of SMS stem from the incident on Oct. 1, 2015, in which the cargo ship El Faro sailed into the heart of Hurricane Joaquin and sank, killing all 33 mariners aboard. Investigators found deficiencies in El Faro’s SMS plan, a factor that may have contributed to the sinking. Some in Congress questioned how effective SMS plans are, the ability of the Coast Guard to oversee the third parties conducting SMS audits, and whether the SMS plans meet federal and international standards.

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