During the Oct. 20, 2020 meeting of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the NTSB determined the probable cause of the Sept., 2019 fire casualty aboard D/V CONCEPTION was the failure of Truth Aquatics, Inc., the owner and operator of the vessel, to provide effective oversight of the boat and crew operations. Specifically, they failed to ensure use of a roving patrol to detect the fire earlier. The lack of Coast Guard regulations requiring smoke detection in all accommodation spaces, as well as inadequate emergency escape arrangements from the vessel’s sleeping quarters, were also cited as a contributing factor.
D/V CONCEPTION burned and sank off Santa Cruz Island. 34 people, including one crewmember, died in the fire, making it one of America’s most deadly maritime casualties in decades.
The NTSB did not conclude what started the fire, but evidence suggested the cause could have been “the electrical distribution system of the vessel, unattended batteries being charged, improperly discarded smoking materials, or another undetermined ignition source.” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt stated, “The Conception may have passed all Coast Guard inspections, but that did not make it safe.” He went on to state that the NTSB’s recommendations for passenger vessels with overnight spaces will make vessels safer, “but there is no rule change that can replace human vigilance.”
While the NTSB report is not yet final, a summary edition of its findings and recommendations are available here.
With offices in Bellingham and Seattle, WA, Portland, OR, and San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA, BoatLaw, LLP has represented commercial diver and vessel passenger clients for over forty years. The firm’s admiralty lawyers have a unique understanding of the dangers faced by mariners across the Pacific, Atlantic coasts, Gulf of Alaska, and the Bering Sea.