The dive boat conception fire is one of the fatal maritime accidents in contemporary history. The incident happened in September 2019 close to Santa Cruz Island, whereby 33 passangers and a crew member below deck succumbed to the fire. The officials of the US Coast Guard came to the rescue of the victims and managed to rescue five members of the crew. However, the 34 other individuals who are believed to have been asleep below the deck at the beginning of the fire perished. Media sources suggest that most of the people who perished came from the Bay area.
An investigation carried out by the National Transport Safety Board (NTSR) did not establish the exact cause of the fire. However, the preliminary report showed that all of the six crew members were asleep at about 3.15 a.m while the fire started within the galley. According to government regulations, commercial ships are mandated to keep a roaming watch with somebody awake abroad throughout the night to alert passengers in case of any danger (Baum Hedlund Law, 2019). Hence, the operators of the Conception regularly failed to adhere to the law, and in case they die, passengers that were asleep below deck may have been alerted before being entrapped in the fire, which eventually consumed the boat to its hull.
However, a member of the crew is reported to have been awake and present in the galley till 2.35 a.m. after checking the stove and ensuring it was cold, and he went upstairs into the wheelhouse. The member of the crew is allegedly reported to have heard the noise but just checked whether somebody had tripped only to discover the fire. Investigations were also done on whether the crew members had been given proper training to handle emergency incidences and also whether the passengers had received safety briefings before the voyage. However, the members of the crew claim that the fire was very intense, making it difficult to save anybody below the deck.
As investigators tried to determine the cause of the fire, the design of the ship and its escape routes attract a lot of scrutinies. Noted to have competed for the limited plug space were the strobe lights batteries, underwater light rigs, digital cameras, GoPro charges, video cameras power packs, and lithium-ion for tablets and cell phones. The preliminary investigation showed that the fire started not in the engine room, but there were increasing signs of having originated within the galley area (VC Star, 2019). A crew member informed a rescuer that the fire originated from electronic devices that were charging within the galley. The Federal Aviation Administration does not allow airline passengers to use stowing devices that contain lithium batteries like laptops, cell phones, and cameras within their checked luggage, not unless they are switched off and are protected from any damage. The same concerns have been raised by the U/S Navy as well as others within the industry. Thus, although not established as the main factor that could have caused the fire, preliminary reports show the probability that the fire started due to lithium battery considering the high number of phones, batteries, and cameras on the boat.
The civil suit alleges that the ship’s operation was under dangerous condition claiming that the defendants failed to put appropriate emergency evacuation processes in place. In other allegations, the civil suit blames the Truth Aquatics of failing to appropriately train its staff and lacking adequate safety rules and equipment. But, the Fritzler family, the owners of the Conception pre-emptively made a federal lawsuit filing in a pre-Civil War marine law, which shielded owners the boat from financial damages in a tragedy at sea. On the other hand, a member of the crew whose leg was broken as he tried to escape from the fire claimed within his lawsuit that the ship was unseaworthy, and its operation in the sea was unsafe.
Although the real cause of the fire is still un-established, the ship’s design, particularly the inadequacy of the bunkroom escape hatch, could have increased the fatality during the tragedy. No one was asleep below the deck who survived the blaze. Although the stairs towards the sleeping quarters headed to the galley, the runaway hatch opened into a dining area next to the galley, but the two routes were blocked by the blaze (VC Star, 2020). The federal regulations of such boats as Conception should contain at least two escape routes that should be widely separated. If possible, this should be at opposite ends of the space to reduce the probability of an incident blocking the two escapes. This is the likely reason why the passengers remained trapped without the ability to run for safety after the spread of the fire.
The boat was made in 1981 by the founder of Truth Aquatics, Roy Hauser. The ship had similar designs as various other California dive boats, but this does not mean that all of them are safe. Mostly the charging unit is the most probable source of ignition in these boats. But, it is still questionable why the smoke detectors in the vessel were not prompted by the fire giving alert to the crew about the blaze earlier.
Conception Dive Boat Fire Investigation | Santa Cruz Island. (2019). Retrieved February 2019, from Baum Hedlund Aristei Goldman: com/boating-accident/conception-dive-boat-fire/”>https://www.baumhedlundlaw.com/boating-accident/conception-dive-boat-fire/
R Baum Hedlund Law. (2019). Retrieved February 11, 2020, from Conception Dive Boat Fire Investigation/ Santa Cruz Island: https://www.baumhedlundlaw.com/boating-accident/conception-dive-boat-fire/
VC Star. (2019, 10 01). Retrieved February 11, 2020, from Conception dive board owner, suspends fleet after the fire: https://www.vcstar.com/story/news/local/2019/10/01/conception-dive-boat-owner-suspends-fleet-after-fire/3833639002/
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