H. Rept. 113-175 - 113th Congress (2013-2014)
July 24, 2013, As Reported by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

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House Report 113-175 - AMENDING TITLE 46, UNITED STATES CODE, TO EXTEND THE EXEMPTION FROM THE FIRE-RETARDANT MATERIALS CONSTRUCTION REQUIREMENT FOR VESSELS OPERATING WITHIN THE BOUNDARY LINE




[House Report 113-175]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]


113th Congress                                                   Report
                        HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
 1st Session                                                    113-175

======================================================================

 
AMENDING TITLE 46, UNITED STATES CODE, TO EXTEND THE EXEMPTION FROM THE 
FIRE-RETARDANT MATERIALS CONSTRUCTION REQUIREMENT FOR VESSELS OPERATING 
                        WITHIN THE BOUNDARY LINE

                                _______
                                

 July 24, 2013.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the 
              State of the Union and ordered to be printed

                                _______
                                

 Mr. Shuster, from the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, 
                        submitted the following

                              R E P O R T

                             together with

                            DISSENTING VIEWS

                        [To accompany H.R. 1961]

      [Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]

    The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, to whom 
was referred the bill (H.R. 1961) to amend title 46, United 
States Code, to extend the exemption from the fire-retardant 
materials construction requirement for vessels operating within 
the Boundary Line, having considered the same, report favorably 
thereon without amendment and recommend that the bill do pass.

                                CONTENTS

                                                                   Page
Purpose of Legislation...........................................     2
Background and Need for Legislation..............................     2
Hearings.........................................................     2
Legislative History and Consideration............................     2
Committee Votes..................................................     2
Committee Oversight Findings.....................................     2
New Budget Authority and Tax Expenditures........................     2
Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate........................     3
Performance Goals and Objectives.................................     3
Advisory of Earmarks.............................................     4
Duplication of Federal Programs..................................     4
Disclosure of Directed Rule Makings..............................     4
Federal Mandate Statement........................................     4
Preemption Clarification.........................................     4
Advisory Committee Statement.....................................     4
Applicability of Legislative Branch..............................     4
Section-by-Section Analysis of Legislation.......................     5
Changes in Existing Law made by the Bill, as Reported............     5
Dissenting Views.................................................     6

                         Purpose of Legislation

    H.R. 1961 would extend the exemption from fire-retardant 
materials construction requirements for certain vessels 
operating within the Boundary Line.

                  Background and Need for Legislation

    Since 1966, federal law (currently codified at section 3503 
of title 46, United States Code) requires passenger vessels 
with overnight accommodations for 50 or more passengers to be 
constructed of fire-retardant materials. Section 3503 included 
an exemption, which expired on November 1, 2008, for certain 
vessels in operation before 1968 and operating in internal 
waters. To qualify for the exemption, the vessel owner had to 
notify passengers that the vessel did not meet fire safety 
standards; agree to be held liable for any death, injury, or 
loss caused by fire; and ensure alterations made to nonpublic 
spaces complied with fire-retardant regulations.
    H.R. 1961 would extend the exemption included in section 
3503 through October 31, 2028.

                                Hearings

    No hearings were held on H.R. 1961.

                 Legislative History and Consideration

    On May 14, 2013, Representative Steve Chabot introduced 
H.R. 1961, a bill to amend title 46, United States Code, to 
extend the exemption from the fire-retardant materials 
construction requirement for vessels operating within the 
Boundary Line.
    On July 18, 2013, the Committee on Transportation and 
Infrastructure met in open session and ordered the bill 
reported favorably to the House by voice vote with a quorum 
present.

                            Committee Votes

    Clause 3(b) of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of 
Representatives requires each committee report to include the 
total number of votes cast for and against on each record vote 
on a motion to report and on any amendment offered to the 
measure or matter, and the names of those members voting for 
and against. There were no record votes taken in connection 
with consideration of H.R. 1961 or ordering the measure 
reported. A motion to order H.R. 1961 reported favorably to the 
House was agreed to by voice vote.

                      Committee Oversight Findings

    With respect to the requirements of clause 3(c)(1) of rule 
XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives, the 
Committee's oversight findings and recommendations are 
reflected in this report.

               New Budget Authority and Tax Expenditures

    Clause 3(c)(2) of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of 
Representatives does not apply where a cost estimate and 
comparison prepared by the Director of the Congressional Budget 
Office under section 402 of the Congressional Budget Act of 
1974 has been timely submitted prior to the filing of the 
report and is included in the report. Such a cost estimate is 
included in this report.

               Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate

    With respect to the requirement of clause 3(c)(3) of rule 
XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives and section 
402 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, the Committee has 
received the enclosed cost estimate for H.R. 1961 from the 
Director of the Congressional Budget Office:

                                     U.S. Congress,
                               Congressional Budget Office,
                                     Washington, DC, July 22, 2013.
Hon. Bill Shuster,
Chairman, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
Washington, DC.
    Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has 
prepared the enclosed cost estimate for H.R. 1961, a bill to 
amend title 46, United States Code, to extend the exemption 
from the fire-retardant material construction requirement for 
vessels operating within the boundary line.
    If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be 
pleased to provide them. The CBO staff contact is Sarah Puro.
            Sincerely,
                                      Douglas W. Elmendorf.
    Enclosure.

H.R. 1961--A bill to amend title 46, United States Code, to extend the 
        exemption from the fire-retardant material construction 
        requirement for vessels operating within the boundary line

    In 2008, the Congress removed an exemption in law that 
allowed certain vessels constructed of wood and containing 
stateroom accommodations to carry more than 50 passengers. H.R. 
1961 would reinstate that exemption and permit those vessels to 
exceed the 50-passenger limit until 2028. CBO estimates that 
there is one vessel affected by the exemption, a historic 
steamboat currently based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
    CBO estimates that enacting the legislation would have no 
impact on the federal budget because the United States Coast 
Guard would continue to inspect the vessel under the provisions 
of the bill or under current law. Enacting H.R. 1961 would not 
affect direct spending or revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go 
procedures do not apply.
    H.R. 1961 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector 
mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act and 
would not affect the budgets of state, local, or tribal 
governments.
    The CBO staff contact for this estimate is Sarah Puro. The 
estimate was approved by Theresa Gullo, Deputy Assistant 
Director for Budget Analysis.

                    Performance Goals and Objectives

    With respect to the requirement of clause 3(c)(4) of rule 
XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives, the 
performance goal and objective of this legislation is to extend 
the exemption from the fire-retardant materials construction 
requirement for vessels operating within the Boundary Line.

                          Advisory of Earmarks

    Pursuant to clause 9 of rule XXI of the Rules of the House 
of Representatives, the Committee is required to include a list 
of congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, or limited 
tariff benefits as defined in clause 9(e), 9(f), and 9(g) of 
rule XXI of the Rules of the House of Representatives. No 
provision in the bill includes an earmark, limited tax benefit, 
or limited tariff benefit under clause 9(e), 9(f), or 9(g) of 
rule XXI.

                    Duplication of Federal Programs

    Pursuant to section 3(j) of H. Res. 5, 113th Cong. (2013), 
the Committee finds that no provision of H.R. 1961 establishes 
or reauthorizes a program of the federal government known to be 
duplicative of another federal program, a program that was 
included in any report from the Government Accountability 
Office to Congress pursuant to section 21 of Public Law 111-
139, or a program related to a program identified in the most 
recent Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance.

                  Disclosure of Directed Rule Makings

    Pursuant to section 3(k) of H. Res. 5, 113th Cong. (2013), 
the Committee estimates that enacting H.R. 1961 does not 
specifically direct the completion of any specific rule makings 
within the meaning of section 551 of title 5, United States 
Code.

                       Federal Mandate Statement

    The Committee adopts as its own the estimate of federal 
mandates prepared by the Director of the Congressional Budget 
Office pursuant to section 423 of the Unfunded Mandates Reform 
Act (Public Law 104-4).

                        Preemption Clarification

    Section 423 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 
requires the report of any Committee on a bill or joint 
resolution to include a statement on the extent to which the 
bill or joint resolution is intended to preempt state, local, 
or tribal law. The Committee states that H.R. 1961 does not 
preempt any state, local, or tribal law.

                      Advisory Committee Statement

    No advisory committees within the meaning of section 5(b) 
of the Federal Advisory Committee Act are created by this 
legislation.

                  Applicability of Legislative Branch

    The Committee finds that the legislation does not relate to 
the terms and conditions of employment or access to public 
services or accommodations within the meaning of section 
102(b)(3) of the Congressional Accountability Act (Public Law 
104-1).

               Section-by-Section Analysis of Legislation


Section 1. Extension of exemption

    Section 1 extends through October 31, 2028 the exemption 
from vessel fire-retardant material construction requirements 
for certain vessels in operation before 1968 and operating in 
internal waters.

         Changes in Existing Law Made by the Bill, as Reported

    In compliance with clause 3(e) of rule XIII of the Rules of 
the House of Representatives, changes in existing law made by 
the bill, as reported, are shown as follows (existing law 
proposed to be omitted is enclosed in black brackets, new 
matter is printed in italic, existing law in which no change is 
proposed is shown in roman):

TITLE 46, UNITED STATES CODE

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *



Subtitle II--Vessels and Seamen

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *



Part B--Inspection and Regulations of Vessels

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *



CHAPTER 35--CARRIAGE OF PASSENGERS

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *



Sec. 3503. Fire-retardant materials

    (a) A passenger vessel of the United States having berth or 
stateroom accommodations for at least 50 passengers shall be 
granted a certificate of inspection only if the vessel is 
constructed of fire-retardant materials. Before November 1, 
[2008] 2028, this section does not apply to any vessel in 
operation before January 1, 1968, and operating only within the 
Boundary Line.

           *       *       *       *       *       *       *


                            DISSENTING VIEWS

    Perhaps no other peril invokes fear on a ship more than the 
threat of fire. The history of maritime trade is replete with a 
long list of tragic losses of hundreds of vessels and thousands 
of lives due to catastrophic fire. Consequently, the prevention 
of fires on ships remains a paramount concern among all 
seafaring nations.
    An inferno aboard the ocean liner, SS MORRO CASTLE in 1934 
claimed the lives of 137 passengers and crew off the New Jersey 
coast. This disaster provoked the United States in 1937 to 
adopt new stringent regulations requiring the use of automatic 
fire doors, ship-wide fire alarms, emergency generators, 
mandatory crew training in fire fighting procedures, greater 
attention to fire drills and procedures, and importantly, the 
use of fire retardant construction materials. These new 
measures built upon basic fire safety standards that had been 
in effect since 1914 when the International Maritime 
Organization (IMO) adopted the International Convention of the 
Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).
    In the 1960s, a series of fires aboard international 
passenger ships, most notably the YARMOUTH CASTLE fire disaster 
on November 13, 1965 that killed 90 passengers and crew, 
highlighted deficiencies in existing fire safety regulations. 
Since 1966, all passenger vessels operating in the U.S. must 
have been built of non-combustible materials, and must have 
either a fixed fire sprinkler system or fixed fire detection 
system installed. The IMO ultimately adopted these and many 
other changes to strengthen fire protection, fire detection and 
fire extinction requirements in the 1974 SOLAS Convention. 
These requirements have been incorporated into the 
International Fire Safety Systems (FSS) Code and the IMO 
continues to refine and improve fire safety standards.
    Yet even with contemporary fire safety requirements fire 
can, and does, wreak havoc on gleaming, modern passenger 
vessels. Members only have to look at press clippings from the 
Carnival SPLENDOR fire in 2010, the 2012 fire that disabled the 
Carnival TRIUMPH, or the 2013 fire aboard Royal Caribbean Lines 
GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS to realize that fire can happen at any 
time, on any ship. These fires underscore the reason why the 
National Transportation Safety Board includes fire safety 
across all modes of transportation, including vessels, on its 
Most Wanted List (http://www.ntsb.gov/safety/mwl.html).
    Recognizing this history and the very serious threat of 
maritime fire, it is discomfiting for the majority to move 
legislation so contrary to public safety. H.R. 1961 would 
reinstate an ill-advised statutory exemption from the 
requirement that all passenger vessels carrying over 50 
passengers on overnight excursions be constructed with fire 
retardant materials for an aged, paddlewheel steamship built in 
1927, the DELTA QUEEN. The irresponsibility of the action is 
accentuated by the absence of any oversight by the majority.
    The list of factors about this vessel for which we know 
little or nothing illustrates that the majority has acted less 
on fact and more on blind faith in approving this bill.
    First, nothing is known about the present condition of the 
vessel. She has sat immobile and out of service along the 
Coolidge Park Landing in Chattanooga, Tennessee since 2009. She 
may have been maintained in an exemplary manner. But 
considering that the vessel's prior owner, Ambassadors 
International, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 
2011, odds are that she has not been adequately maintained. The 
Committee has acted without knowing if the vessel has become 
even less fire safe than when she was last inspected in 2008, 
or if the Coast Guard would even issue a Certificate of 
Inspection to operate now.
    Second, since 2008 when the Congress voted down legislation 
to extend the DELTA QUEEN's exemption, ownership of the vessel 
has changed hands from Ambassadors International to TAC Cruises 
LLC, an affiliate of Xanterra Holding Corp. Recent newspaper 
articles report a new sale of the vessel is pending but the 
investors remain unknown. Absent any oversight, we have no way 
of knowing whether the pending owners have any competence in 
maritime operations. For that matter, we have no way of knowing 
whether the prospective owners appreciate the genuine risk of 
fire on the DELTA QUEEN.
    Additionally, the bill's advocates claim that the 
prospective new owners have plans to invest $7 million to $9 
million to retrofit the vessel to address fire safety 
deficiencies. To date, however, no plans have been presented 
for the Committee's review. Furthermore, I am concerned that 
the open-ended nature of the exemption may be more a 
disincentive, than incentive, for future intensive capital 
investment in the DELTA QUEEN.
    Last, no reasons have been provided by the bill's sponsor 
or its proponents to justify granting this exemption through 
October, 2028--a full fifteen years. Each of the nine previous 
exemptions granted by the Congress had been for five years. 
This bill would grant the owners of the DELTA QUEEN an 
exemption three times as long as any previous exemption. 
Granting this exemption is a profoundly bad idea considering 
the advanced age of the vessel. But granting it without any 
justification is an abdication of the Committee's oversight 
responsibilities.
    Contrast these points with what we do know.
    The DELTA QUEEN is an American stern wheel steamboat that 
was built in 1927. The vessel's steam boilers and engines are 
virtual antiques, and the vessel's superstructure is built 
almost entirely out of wood. While intrinsic to the vessel's 
designation as a National Historic Landmark, both present 
significant fire hazards. This is an indisputable fact. Also 
indisputable is the fact that the DELTA QUEEN would have ceased 
to operate decades ago, at least from overnight voyages 
carrying fifty or more passengers, in the absence of statutory 
exemptions from the fire retardant construction materials 
requirement.
    Second, the Coast Guard's 2008 Traveling Inspector Special 
Inspection report found numerous deficiencies in the vessel's 
condition and operation and noted that ``the Coast Guard has 
consistently opposed legislation to prolong the service life of 
the DELTA QUEEN.'' This report also substantiated that the 
vessel's wood construction or propulsion technology ``present 
an unnecessary and unacceptable accumulation of combustible 
fire load'' that remains a risk to its passengers and crew. 
Oral communications from the Coast Guard prior to the mark-up 
affirmed that the Coast Guard's positions remain unchanged from 
those stated in the 2008 report.
    Third, we know that the casualty history of the DELTA QUEEN 
is abysmal. According to the Coast Guard's Marine Information 
for Safety and Law Enforcement (MISLE) data base, since 1992 
the DELTA QUEEN has suffered 38 casualty events. The most 
recent fire occurred on March 22, 2008 in the generator room 
which necessitated the discharge of the fixed CO2 extinguishing 
system. Fortunately no one was injured. Records indicate that 
this fire was a result of an electrical short in the generator; 
just one piece of aged equipment on a vessel full of the same. 
The casualty record and age of the vessel strongly suggests 
that another fire is likely to happen. The difference, of 
course, is that the next fire may be deadly.
    Fourth, we know that the renewal of this exemption is not 
necessary to maintain the economic viability of the DELTA 
QUEEN. The vessel would still be able to carry passengers on 
day time excursions for sight-seeing or charters, provided, of 
course, that the vessel's condition and operation still allows 
the Coast Guard to issue a Certificate of Inspection.
    We also know that navigation on the Mississippi River and 
its main tributaries is fraught with significant hazards. Heavy 
commercial ship traffic, variable water levels and visibility, 
swift currents, narrow channels, shifting shoals and sandbars, 
and both engineered and natural obstructions make navigation on 
these inland waterways a constant challenge. Accordingly, the 
navigation history of the Mississippi drainage is littered with 
a litany of marine casualties including vessel collisions and 
allisions, groundings, capsizings, spills, sinkings, and yes, 
deadly fires. It is simply foolish to allow a vessel that the 
Coast Guard considers an unacceptable fire hazard to passengers 
and crew to return to overnight service on this river system.
    In closing, I recognize that the majority is motivated in 
the interest of preserving the DELTA QUEEN as a functioning 
part of America's maritime history and to provide new jobs for 
U.S. mariners. But as much as I am sympathetic to those 
objectives, they are outweighed by the future risk of fire on 
board this vessel. The public's safety must come first.
    Keeping the DELTA QUEEN in service is not necessary to 
preserve the vessel, witness the fate of her sister, the DELTA 
KING, which now sits inactive along the Sacramento River 
waterfront preserved as a floating hotel (http://
www.deltaking.com/). Also, for those seeking to experience 
riding on a paddle wheel vessel, modern replicas are available 
today for overnight excursions on the Mississippi River. For 
example, the QUEEN OF THE MISSISSIPPI is a modern paddle 
wheeler built entirely to fire safety standards that was 
launched in 2012 by American Cruise Lines.
    And regarding the creation of maritime jobs, I agree 
entirely with the objective. However, I contend that there are 
many other positive actions we could take to create maritime 
jobs, such as adhering to the Jones Act, enforcing U.S. cargo 
preference requirements, expanding short sea shipping and 
revitalizing domestic shipbuilding, than to enable the DELTA 
QUEEN to return to overnight service by passing this 
legislation.

                                                    John Garamendi.