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NTSB Confirms Entire Crew on Conception Was Sleeping Before Dive Boat Fire, Suggesting Violation of Coast Guard Certificate

The entire crew aboard a California dive boat that caught fire just off the coast of Santa Cruz Island earlier this month was apparently sleeping as the tragic blaze broke out.

The Conception was on the final day of a three-day excursion to the Channel Islands when it burst into flames in the predawn hours of September 2nd.  All 33 passengers, ages 16 to 62, and one crew member died from smoke inhalation below deck.

Just five crew, including the captain, managed to escape the 75-foot vessel alive.

Conception was Required to Have “Roving Watch” when Explosion Occurred

The California dive boat fire ranks among the worst maritime disasters in the state’s history.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators issued a preliminary report last week, confirming that all crew members were asleep when the tragedy began to unfold. That would constitute a major violation, as the Conception’s certificate of inspection indicates that a crew member – a”roving watch” — was to remain awake and monitor the ship overnight

The NTSB also confirmed that all of the deaths occurred in the ship’s single sleeping cabin, located below deck. Although the surviving crew attempted to reach those trapped inside, flames had already engulfed the ladder leading to the sleeping area.

Coast Guard Alert Issued After California Dive Boat Fire

The cause of the Conception fire remains under investigation.

In the days after the disaster, reports emerged that passengers were permitted to charge cell phones and other electronic devices below deck, in the galley. That’s led to speculation that a lithium ion battery might have sparked the blaze.

Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a safety alert recommending that passenger vessels limit unsupervised charging of lithium ion batteries and reduce potential hazards from the use of power strips and extension cords.

California Dive Boat Fire Reportedly Subject of Criminal Probe

Truth Aquatics, Inc., a well-respected company that operates diving excursions out of Santa Barbara Harbor, owns the Conception. According to the Coast Guard, the ship had passed its most recent inspection.

Nevertheless, sources told Reuters that federal, state, and local authorities have opened a criminal investigation into the California dive boat fire. Agents from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Coast Guard, and local sheriff’s deputies have already served search warrants at Truth Aquatics’ office, as well as two other ships operated by the company.

Although law enforcement officials declined to say what they were searching for, The Los Angeles Times reported that the investigation focuses on possible safety lapses.

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