Safety lapses blamed for deadly fire on California dive boat

Conception in 2000 Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Ken Goudey

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has stated that a number of possible safety lapses may have led to the loss of a commercial diving vessel along with 34 of its 39 occupants while it was anchored off Southern California earlier this month.

NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said that Conception, a vessel owned by local dive tour operator Truth Aquatics, did not have a night watchman at the time of the incident near Santa Cruz Island in the early morning hours (local time) of September 2.

Further, the crew reportedly had not received proper training for dealing with situations such as the fire that ultimately led to the vessel’s capsizing and sinking within hours.

Ms Homendy added that the surviving crew claimed they did not hear any smoke alarms and instead only woke up to discover Conception‘s lower decks already ablaze. This account has compelled the NTSB to look into whether the vessel had any functioning smoke detectors and fire extinguishers at the time of the incident.

No criminal charges have yet been filed though agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) have served search warrants at Truth Aquatics’ offices and on two of the company’s vessels.

Although Conception had an escape hatch, investigators claim it would have been difficult for anyone on board to see and access.

The conclusion was drawn following the examination of the escape hatch on Vision, a near identical dive boat also operated by Truth Aquatics.

The NTSB expects the investigation to last another 12 to 18 months before the probable causes of the incident could be determined.

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