Updated: 03/25/2014 23:50 | By Agence France-Presse

US inspectors find flawed lifeboats on cruise ships

Faulty and leaky lifeboats were among the top three safety issues found by US maritime inspectors on cruise ships in 2013, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) forum heard Tuesday.

Captain Eric Christensen of the US Coast Guard said 140 cruise ships -- the majority flagged in foreign countries -- were subjected to inspection in US ports last year, amid an ongoing worldwide boom in the cruising industry.

The most common deficiency involved fire screen doors that didn't close properly, Christensen said, followed by lifeboats with leaky hulls, engines that didn't start or faulty davits -- the swinging cranes that lower a lifeboat into the water.

"Means of escape" came third on the list, followed by improper storage areas and inadequate emergency drills and crew training.

The Coast Guard operates a "robust examination program" with semi-annual inspections of cruise ships that stop in US ports plus unannounced spot checks on vessels with "a worse that average compliance history," Christensen said.

Out of the 140 cruise ships inspected in 2013, one was in poor enough condition to be detained, said Christensen, who did not identify the ship or whether it has been released.

'Vast majority cleared up'

Otherwise, "the vast majority (of safety deficiencies) are cleared up prior to the vessel departing," he said.

The NTSB is holding two days of hearings in Washington on cruise ship safety in the wake of several highly publicized incidents -- most notably the Costa Concordia disaster off Italy in 2012 in which 32 people died.

"We are here today to shine a light on current cruise ship safety," said NTSB chairwoman Deborah Hersman in opening the forum that brings together the cruise industry and regulatory bodies including the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO).

"Worldwide, about 22 million people will take cruises in 2014. That's more than four times as many as just 20 years ago. The largest ships can now accommodate more than 6,000 passengers and 2,000 crew," Hersman said.

"More serious accidents and incidents can only be headed off by continually seeking safety improvements," she said.

"Conversely, the dead weight of complacency may be one of the few things that can darken this booming industry's bright outlook."

The forum is delving into operational, design and regulatory issues as well as investigation procedures -- but steering clear of other concerns, such as outbreaks of illness or criminal acts on the high seas, that fall outside the NTSB's remit.

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