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Opening Statement- Board Meeting: Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) Safety Study, Washington, DC
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Conference Center, Washington, DC

​Good afternoon and welcome to the Boardroom of the National Transportation Safety Board. I am Christopher Hart, and it is my privilege to serve as Chairman of the NTSB. Joining me are Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr, Member Robert Sumwalt, and Member Earl Weener.

Today, we meet in open session, as required by the Government in the Sunshine Act, to consider a safety study titled An Assessment of the Effectiveness of the US Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service System.

Forty-five years ago, the NTSB issued a recommendation that helped establish the Coast Guard VTS system. The Coast Guard has the authority to manage the operation of waterway navigation safety, through VTS and other systems. VTS has built an impressive ability to do so, holding the promise of a significant safety benefit.

VTS operators augment awareness among vessel crews. They maintain a broad focus, and are therefore able to tell mariners “what’s coming up next.” Their ability to gather and disseminate information is appreciated in the shipping industry.

VTS personnel can spot hazardous traffic patterns early in their development. They provide information about unsafe situations, leaving individual mariners to determine the appropriate action to avoid hazards.

And, when necessary, they can and should provide navigational direction and monitor its effects.

The NTSB works side-by-side with the Coast Guard in marine accident investigations. Recently, however, some of those investigations have raised questions and concerns about the effectiveness of the VTS system.

Building upon our investigative experience, we conducted this safety study to look at the VTS system as a whole and identify areas for system-wide improvements. Specifically, our goal was to determine how well the system recognized unsafe situations, provided timely warning to mariners, and controlled vessel traffic movements in the interest of safety.

The Coast Guard supported our research efforts with openness and transparency—in large part because we share a common ethic of continuous improvement.

This study represents the most comprehensive, independent review of the VTS system since the mid-1990s. We assessed all 12 of the VTS centers that currently make up the system, analyzing accident and waterway activity data as well as information collected from surveys, interviews, and meetings. We also gauged attitudes among VTS directors, watch supervisors, and operators, as well as among industry users of the VTS system.

Commercial vessel traffic is expected to grow in both volume and complexity in the years to come. And although transportation by water has proven to be very safe, a single marine accident can threaten property, the environment, and human life.

Since the 1970s, the Coast Guard has been building the capacity to provide an array of safety services along some of our nation’s most hazardous and congested waterways.

Today we will examine VTS and identify what can be done to make it a more effective system for professional mariners and for the public.

Now Managing Director Tom Zoeller will introduce the staff.