The owner of the Truth Aquatics fleet has suspended all operations indefinitely following the Labor Day dive boat fire off the California coast that killed 34 people.
The company said on its website that it will “dedicate our entire efforts to make our boats models of new regulations” working with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Coast Guard.
The Santa Barbara firm apologized to customers seeking reservations and those already booked and said it appreciates expressions of support.
Authorities have not determined the cause of the blaze on the 75'x25' wooden hulled Conception off Santa Cruz Island about 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 2. The vessel built in 1981 was one of three in Truth Aquatics fleet. Others are the 69'x22' Truth, built in 1974, and the 88'x26' Vision, built in 1985, according to the website.
The NTSB’s preliminary report said all six crew members were asleep when the fire started. The vessel’s Certificate of Inspection (COI) requires a roving watch, according to the Coast Guard, which said the boat was inspected in February and complied with regulatory requirements. The victims likely died of smoke inhalation, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff said.
An NTSB official said it was not ruling out any possible ignition sources, noting a lot of cameras, cell phones and other equipment were being charged onboard.
The Coast Guard has convened a rare Marine Board of Investigation to look into the disaster. And agents from the Coast Guard, FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in consultation with the U.S. Attorney’s office have searched the offices of Truth Aquatics and its two other vessels. The Conception was raised Sept. 12.
Shortly after the accident Truth Aquatics asked a federal court to limit its liability under an 1851 law that keeps damages to the value of the vessel and its freight.
One of the surviving crew members has sued Truth Aquatics and the company that chartered the boat claiming the vessel was unseaworthy. Ryan Sims, who is seeking damages, alleges the company didn’t properly maintain the boat, train employees or provide adequate safety equipment. He said he fractured his leg and suffered other injuries after jumping from the top deck to avoid the fire.
A lawyer for Truth Aquatics said Sims worked 18 days on five trips as a first galley cook. The claims about seaworthiness, safety and equipment “are inconsistent with the years of successful annual U.S. Coast Guard inspection reports, including one in February of 2019,” Douglas Schwartz said in a statement.
Charterer Worldwide Diving Adventures said on its website it would not make any statements about the accident and has asked its attorney to cooperate with investigators.