The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has said that a Southern California dive boat fire that left 34 people dead was due to lack of oversight on the part of the boat owners. According to a report in The Associated Press, NTSB officials said the Conception’s captain failed to post a roving night watchman aboard the vessel, which allowed the fire to sweep through the vessel and trap 33 passengers and one crewmember, who were all killed.
The NTSB also faulted the U.S. Coast Guard for not enforcing the requirement and recommended that the agency develop a program to ensure boats with overnight passengers have a person who is keeping watch. The horrific accident occurred Labor Day weekend in 2019 during a weekend scuba diving excursion off Santa Barbara. According to court documents, charges against the boat’s captain are imminent.
Strong Criticism From NTSB
In what was a chilling revelation, investigators told the NTSB that because some of the recovered bodies had shoes on, they believe the victims were awake and trying to escape before being overcome with smoke. Both exits from the bunkroom were sealed off by flames. All victims died from smoke inhalation.
One of the board members who took a tour of the sister ship of the Conception blasted the captain and the boat’s owners, Truth Aquatics saying that the incident should not be called an accident because the owners failed to operate their company safely.
Prior to this disaster, the company enjoyed a good reputation with customers and the Conception had even passed two of its most recent safety inspections. But, NTSB investigators had strong criticism for the company and its captain on a variety of issues including failing to train the crew on emergency procedures.
Investigation and Lawsuits
Because the boat burned and sank, investigators were not able to determine what caused the fire. But, they found that it began in the back of the main deck salon where divers were charging their phones, flashlights and other items with lithium ion batteries. After the Conception fire, the Coast Guard issued a bulletin recommending a limit on the unsupervised use of lithium ion batteries and extensive use of power strips and extension cords.
The families of 32 victims have filed personal injury claims against the boat owners who in turn have filed a legal claim to shield them from damages under a maritime law that limits liability for boat owners. Court filings also show that the owners have offered to settle lawsuits with a number of victims’ families.
Tour operators, whether it’s a boat, bus or helicopter, have a responsibility to safely transport their passengers. They have a duty of care. This means they must follow all safety regulations that help ensure the safety of their passengers. When public or private carriers fail to fulfill that responsibility or when they breach that duty of care, they can be held liable for the injuries, damages and losses they cause.
The experienced wrongful death lawyers at Timothy J. Ryan & Associates provide quality legal representation to injured clients and families that have lost their loved ones in traumatic and tragic circumstances. Please contact us at (714) 898-4444 to find out how we can help you.
- Timothy J. Ryan