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Dive boat fire accident claims 34 lives

by Panagiotis Argitis - Editor-in-Chief
Tue, Sep 10th 2019 11:00 pm
Santa Barbara Coast Guard fights the flames bursting out of dive boat Conception.
Santa Barbara Coast Guard fights the flames bursting out of dive boat Conception.

When the Santa Barbara-based dive boat, Conception, set sail on Aug. 31 for a three day cruise, the 33 passengers and six crew members on board prepared for a smooth trip around Santa Cruz island. A fire, the cause of which has yet to be identified, ended the scuba excursion abruptly two days later, taking 34 lives in the process. 

According to USA Today, the Coast Guard dispatcher, who later called for support in combating the boat inferno, was contacted by Bob Hansen whose boat was found by five crew members who escaped the fire. 

In the morning following the disaster, Conception had sunk off the coast of Santa Cruz Island and a further investigation began on those who perished in the fire. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the people on board likely died from smoke inhalation, not burns, according to CNN. The five crew members who survived the fire, including the captain, all suffered from high-degree burns and were hospitalized following their rescue by the Coast Guard at the scene. Despite an ongoing investigation, the 33 passengers have not all been found, with only 22 victims identified thus far.

In an attempt to locate the cause of the inferno, authorities and coast crew members have made efforts in recovering the wreckage from the bottom of the California coast in order to further investigate what started the fire. 

“We’re looking to determine what happened and a criminal element that is always a possibility,” Brown told CNN. “At this point, no one has been charged criminally.” 

While the crew members who survived the fire stated they tried to save the passengers on board, Truth Aquatics Inc., which owns Conception, filed action under a pre-Civil War provision of maritime law that allows it to lower its liability, according to NBC News. 

The legal move, which was put to use in 1851, was led by the boat owner three days after the fire. The families of the deceased will have six months to respond to the challenge, which has left those watching the case unfold with a sour taste in their mouths. 

“It seems like a pretty heartless thing to do, but that’s always what happens,” maritime law director at Tulane University Martin J. Davis told NBC News. “They’re just protecting their position.”  

With the legal case in full motion, the owner of the boat could have his insurance company clear any cost under the law if the battle is won by the company. 

Although investigations remain ongoing, the questions behind the amount of action taken by the boat’s watchman, the role of the person who is in charge of safety hazards, during the fire are yet to be answered. The watchman was said to be in the space of the fire before it began but his whereabouts at the time of the fire have not been uncovered.  

As the Conception waits to resurface investigators hope to pinpoint the cause of the fire, families of those whose lives were lost mournfully wait on their prayers to be heard.

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