Federal safety officials say the owners of a Southern California dive boat company are responsible for one of the deadliest accidents in U.S. maritime history after a fire swept through one of their vessels, killing 34 people trapped below deck.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says the deaths of 33 passengers and one crew member in the Sept. 2, 2019, blaze aboard the dive boat Conception resulted from the boat captain’s failure to post a night watchman.
Charges against captain “imminent”
Investigators were unable to uncover the cause of the fire because the boat burned and sank during a diving excursion off the coast of Santa Barbara. However, they said it began in an area where passengers had plugged in phones and other items that had combustible lithium-ion batteries.
Criminal charges are expected against the captain, Jerry Boylan, and more repercussions are likely against the boat’s owners, Truth Aquatics. The NTSB also leveled criticisms against the Coast Guard for not enforcing the requirement that night watchmen are posted on boats with overnight passengers.
NTSB recounts chilling details of investigation
Investigators say some of the recovered bodies were wearing shoes, leading them to believe the passengers were awake during the fire and tried to escape. However, both exits in the sleeping quarters were blocked by flames. The coroner says all deaths resulted from smoke inhalation.
One NTSB board member says she hates to call the incident an “accident” because the company failed to keep its passengers and crew safe. Investigators faulted Truth Aquatics for several deficiencies, including failing to train its staff on emergency procedures.