NTSB to release results of California dive boat investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in October will disclose the results of its investigation of the Sept. 2, 2019, fatal fire aboard the dive boat Conception that killed 33 passengers and one crew.

All six crew members were asleep when the fire started on the 75’x25′ wooden hulled boat off Santa Cruz Island, Calif., the NTSB said in a preliminary report. The Certificate of Inspection (COI) for the vessel built in 1981 requires a roving watch, according to the Coast Guard, which said the vessel complied with regulatory requirements. The victims likely died of smoke inhalation, officials said.

The NTSB’s five-member board will vote on the findings, probable cause and recommendations as well as any changes to a draft final report at the Oct. 20, 9:30 a.m. hearing that will be webcast only. (A link will be available shortly before the start of the meeting.)

The Coast Guard has convened a rare Marine Board of Investigation into the tragedy, which also is being looked into by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in consultation with the U.S. Attorney.

A Coast Guard safety bulletin issued right after the fire urged operators to make sure their vessels are safe. One major suggestion was to limit the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and extensive use of power strips and extension cords. The NTSB said a lot of cameras, cell phones and other equipment were being charged onboard the Conception.

The bulletin urged mariners to “ensure crewmembers are aware of and clearly understand their obligations including any additional requirements detailed on the COI.” Emergency escapes should be clearly identified, functional and unobstructed.

Conception crewmembers tried to get through the galley’s double doors to the passengers, but it was already in flames, the NTSB said. Then they tried unsuccessfully to get through some windows, but they were overwhelmed by smoke and jumped overboard.

About the author

Dale K. DuPont

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.

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