Fatal dive boat fire attributed to operator's oversight failures
Ocean Navigator|January- February 2021
The dive boat Conception on fire off Santa Cruz island in California.
Casey Conley

BEFORE DAWN on sept. 2, 2019, A CrewmAn AboArd the dive boat Conception, which was anchored off Santa Cruz Island, Calif., awoke to a strange sound. He investigated and found the vessel’s salon compartment, one deck below, aglow with fire.

He awoke four co-workers sleeping nearby, and together they attempted to reach the 34 people sleeping below deck. Flames and intense heat on the main deck made the rescue, or any escape from below deck, impossible. The 33 passengers and one crew member in the bunk room died.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a report on the accident on Nov. 10, 2020. The NTSB identified numerous regulatory gaps pertaining to passenger vessels during its year-long investigation of the Conception fire. The agency has called for multiple new rules aimed at improving safety aboard these boats.

NTSB investigators and board members met virtually on Oct. 20 to confirm key findings and release the probable cause of the fire. The agency said the crew’s failure to follow the existing requirement for an overnight watch was a primary factor in the tragedy.

“The absence of the required roving patrol on Conception delayed detection and allowed for the growth of the fire, precluded firefighting and evacuation efforts and directly led to the high number of fatalities in the accident,” the NTSB determined.

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