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Conception Dive Boat tragedy leads National Transportation Safety Board to issue new safety regulations ahead of Labor Day weekend

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Nearing the anniversary of the loss of 34 people in a deadly Conception Dive Boat fire on a Labor Day weekend three years ago, the National Transportation Safety Board said that only one of three associations given safety recommendations have taken sufficient action to date.

The NTSB launched an investigation after the Conception dive boat that was anchored in Platts Harbor off of Santa Cruz Island caught fire in 2019 and sank the vessel less than 100 feet from shore. The burn trapped the 33 passengers and one crew member sleeping below deck resulting in their deaths.

The NTSB issued 10 safety recommendations, seven to the U.S. Coast Guard, two to associations that have members operating small passenger vessels with overnight accommodations, and one to the operator of the vessel, Truth Aquatics. However, the NTSB said on Thursday that only one of the associations has taken the correct steps to update its safety protocols.

The Sportfishing Association of California and the National Association of Charterboat Operators have yet to respond, according to the NTSB.

The safety recommendations were attempts to begin to right the wrongs that led to the preventable tragedy.

"Three years ago, I made a promise to the victims’ families that I would vigorously work to ensure the safety recommendations we issued would be implemented," said Jennifer Homendy, NTSB chair.

With the progress and implementation of the new safety rules on the water, Homendy recognizes that much more work needs to be done and these actions should have been taken before the unnecessary loss of life.

"We appreciate Congress addressing these safety issues in legislation, and for the cooperation and partnership of the Coast Guard. But this shouldn’t have taken an act of Congress to improve safety. Passenger vessel owners and operators should act now to ensure no one else loses a loved one in another tragedy on our waterways.”

NTSB encourages operators of vessels with overnight accommodations to:

  • Install smoke detectors in all accommodation spaces and ensure they are interconnected so when one detector goes off, they all do. While the Conception berthing space did have smoke detectors, they were the only ones on the vessel and would only alarm locally in the berthing space and not throughout the entire vessel.
  • Ensure that the primary and secondary emergency escape paths do not lead to the same space, which can be blocked by a single hazard. The Conception had two means of escape from the lower deck bunk room, but both led into the salon on the deck above, which was filled with heavy smoke and fire. Tragically, the salon compartment was the only escape path to the outside weather deck. Because there was fire in the salon, the passengers and a crew member were trapped below.
  • Vessel owners and operators should review the requirements of the Certificate of Inspection (COI) and ensure they adhere to the conditions of operation such as designating and maintaining roving patrols at all times when bunks or berthing spaces are occupied. Our investigation found that the Conception fire was uncontrollable by the time it was discovered because no crew members were assigned roving patrol duties on board the Conception, even though it was a condition of operation on their COI.
  • Keep escape routes unobstructed at all times.
  • Implement a safety management system. Had an SMS been implemented, Truth Aquatics could have identified unsafe practices and fire risks on the Conception and taken corrective action before the tragedy occurred.

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County
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Drew Ascione

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