The tragic dive boat accident that occurred off the coast of Santa Cruz Island over Labor Day weekend resulted in the deaths of 33 passengers and one crew member. Just five of the 39 people on board, all crew, survived the fire that struck the boat in the early hours of the morning. Preliminary investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) indicate that there may have been safety violations that led to the fire causing so many deaths.
The Tragic Incident
At some point early in the morning or late at night, the dive boat Conception caught fire and quickly burned. Most of the 39 people on board were asleep when the fire started, which could have been a major reason that so many died, likely of smoke inhalation.
One crew member was asleep with the passengers, while five were awake or were quickly awakened by the fire. The captain issued a mayday call and then they jumped overboard. The crew members were able to row to and notify another boat that they needed help. Returning to the burning dive boat they were unable to find anyone else.
The surviving crew members later recalled that they tried to get past the hatches leading into the sleeping area. Both of these were blocked by fire, making it impossible for them to get in to rescue anyone or for the people inside to get out.
The NTSB Investigation Show Safety Violation
The NTSB began investigating the tragedy immediately, and within a week had released a preliminary report. The point of the investigation is to determine the cause of the fire and any safety issues that prevented the passengers and crew to get out of the boat.
Initial findings indicate that all six crew members on the Conception were asleep when the fire started. The boat was required to have at least one crew member awake and keeping watch around the clock. Five crew members, those who survived, were sleeping in their own quarters behind the wheelhouse while the sixth was in the passenger bunkroom below decks.
One crew member only woke up in response to a sound and discovered the fire. That individual alerted the rest of the five crew members who survived, at which time the captain issued the distress call to the Coast Guard.
So far, no other violations have been discovered other than the fact that no crew member was awake on roving duty. The ship had passed its most recent safety inspections leading up to the trip that ended in fire and tragedy. The full report, the NTSB homes, will include a cause of the actual fire.
The investigation is not yet complete, and while all the victims have been identified, more information is needed to ensure that future trips on similar boats are safer. Whatever caused the fire needs to be addressed and there will also likely be legal action, although the boat owners have already invoked an 1851 law to limit their own liability. If you have been in a boating accident, you have legal rights too. Contact an experienced maritime lawyer to find out what steps you should take next.