Crew all asleep when fire started – report
A preliminary investigation into the recent California diving liveaboard fire that killed 34 people has concluded that none of the six crew was awake when it broke out – contravening a law stipulating that such vessels must provide a nightwatch.
Lawyers for Truth Aquatics, the owner-operator of the boat, Conception, have however claimed that one of the crew checked the galley area above the passenger bunk-room at around 2:30am.
The alarm was raised about 45 minutes later, when a crew-member was woken by a noise and saw the fire.
The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report states that the captain and four crew were all asleep in berths in the wheelhouse, while a sixth crew-member was sleeping in the bunk-room below, according to the fleet’s standard practice – she died with the 33 passengers in the blaze. The victims are now believed to have died of smoke inhalation.
The actions of the crew after waking were covered in previous reports on Divernet.
US federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation to establish whether any negligence was involved in the fatal incident, though no charges have been brought. The process is thought likely to take at least a year.
The FBI, Coast Guard and other agencies last week searched the Santa Barbara offices of Truth Aquatics as well as the two other boats in its fleet, Truth and Vision. Computers and records are understood to have been seized.
13 September 2019
Investigators plan to interview past Truth Aquatics liveaboard guests about safety routines, and a call has been issued for any witnesses with footage or stills of the fire to submit them.
All the bodies have been recovered, although DNA testing was continuing to provide positive identification on seven of them. The charred remains of Conception have now been raised using a barge crane, and are to be inspected ashore.
The investigation is understood to be focusing on possible safety-routine lapses, including the night-watch arrangements and quality of emergency training for the crew. Arrangements for overnight charging of divers’ electronic equipment were also expected to be scrutinised.
Establishing the cause of the fire was outside the scope of the NTSB report, but after examining the similar Truth Aquatics liveaboard Vision, the board publicly expressed concerns about its means of escape, positioning of fire extinguishers and adequacy of smoke detectors.
Divers Alert Network (DAN) has set up a fund-raising page for families of those who died. It has donated $10,000 to the fund.