The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has publicly released voluminous documentary evidence relating to the fire aboard D/V CONCEPTION on September 2, 2019, which resulted in the deaths of 34 people.  The only survivors of the incident near Santa Cruz Island in California were five crewmembers who dove into the water for safety.  Everyone else aboard the vessel remained trapped and perished.

The factual evidence released by the NTSB does not yet draw conclusions or make recommendations.  However, documents indicate that no one was assigned a roving watch duty the night of the fire.  There may also be issues with the sufficiency of the crew’s safety training, as well as a previous electrical fire incident aboard D/V CONCEPTION’s sistership, D/V VISION.

Among the documents released by the NTSB were transcripts of interviews with witnesses.  Ryan Sims, a newer crewmember aboard the vessel, told investigators that he had asked Captain Boylan to discuss emergency plans the day before the fire.  He claims that the Captain responded: “When we have time.” Other crewmembers reportedly were unfamiliar with vessel safety procedures.

Sims further told investigators that he saw sparks when he plugged in his cellphone before going to sleep that night.  He recalls being in a sleep-like state when he heard a pop and then a crackle downstairs as another crew member yelled, “Fire! Fire!”

This tragic incident remains under investigation by the NTSB, the United States Coast Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

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.


The Maritime Executive, Los Angeles Times, The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), NBC News