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Conception Fire Investigation Said to Be Focused on Dive Boat’s Electrical System

The federal investigation into the deadly fire aboard a California dive boat is said to be focusing on the Conception’s outdated electrical system.

Where the Investigation Stands Right Now

The Conception fire broke out in the early hours of Labor Day morning, as the 75-foot-vessel was moored just off southern California’s Santa Cruz Island. The ship was on the third day of a Channel Islands diving excursion, and was expected back in Santa Barbara Harbor by 5:00 p.m.

Thirty-three passengers and one crew member died in the blaze, all of whom were asleep in a single cabin below deck at the time. It’s likely they were trapped by the fast-moving flames.

Only five crew members, including the Conception’s captain, made it off the ship alive. All were apparently top-side when the disaster began to unfold. Although they attempted to save those below deck, the intensity of the fire prevented any rescue.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the Conception fire and has already confirmed that the ship lacked a “roving watch” – a crew member who was required to remain awake and monitor the vessel overnight. It also appears that passengers were permitted to charge lithium-ion battery devices overnight in the galley, where the fire is believed to have begun.

Outdated Electrical System May Have Sparked Conception Fire

According to the Los Angeles Times, investigators are particularly interested in electrical outlets concealed behind the galley’s foam-filled benches. They believe it’s likely that every one of those outlets was charging a cell phone, camera, or other device on the night of the fire.

The Conception was built in the early 1980s. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is participating in the investigation, and reportedly working to determine if the ship’s outdated electrical system could handle dozens of charging devices at once.

“The environment and salty air plays havoc with the electrical system,” John McDevitt, a former assistant fire chief, marine surveyor and chairman of the National Fire Protection Assn, told the Los Angeles Times. “Electricity is challenging on a boat. With all those charging stations running through an old circuit, it is probably electrical.”

Any frayed, loosened, or improperly connected wiring could have ignited the Conception fire. A large number of charging lithium-ion batteries might have also overloaded the system, eventually sparking the blaze.

There’s also a possibility that a smoldering or exploding battery, frayed connector cord, or mismatched charger on any of the devices served as the ignition source.

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