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3 years after Conception tragedy, boat safety still lacking

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Posted at 2:07 PM, Sep 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-02 01:49:51-04

Three years have gone by since the 75-foot-long dive boat Conception caught fire and sank in Platts Harbor, where it was anchored on the north side of Santa Cruz Island.

34 people, including 33 passengers and one crew member who were sleeping below deck, died in the Sept. 2, 2019 disaster.

5 crew members who were above board when the fire broke out were able to escape.

An investigation into the tragedy by the National Transportation Safety Board found lack of smoke detectors in sleeping areas, no roving patrol, limited fire exits and ineffective company oversight were to blame for the disaster.

After the investigation, the agency issued 10 new safety recommendations to prevent similar catastrophes in the future.

On Thursday, the NTSB shared that their recommendations have not been followed by two out of three associations in the U.S. that operate small overnight vessels.

Multiple Fatalities In Boat Fire Near Santa Cruz Island
The 75-foot Conception, based in Santa Barbara Harbor, burns after catching fire early September 2, 2019 anchored off Santa Cruz Island, California. Thirty-four died in the disaster, while five crew members were rescued.

The Passenger Vessel Association has met the NTSB's recommendations; however, NTSB says the Sportfishing Association of California and the National Association of Charterboat Operators have not yet responded.

Two of the ten recommendations were directed at the three associations. The NTSB told the groups that until the Coast Guard requires smoke detectors in all sleeping areas and a secondary escape path for passengers, the associations should urge members to do those things, using the story of what happened to the Conception to motivate the changes.

One NTSB recommendation was directed at Truth Aquatics, the operator of the Conception. The agency told the operators to implement a safety management system across its vessels.

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An image of the Conception boat before it caught fire and sank off Santa Cruz Island on Sept. 2, 2019, killing 34 people.

Seven of the NTSB's recommendations were made to the U.S. Coast Guard. The recommendations urge the Coast Guard to require that old and new vessels with sleeping areas have smoke detectors installed; that the smoke detectors be connected so they all sound if one is triggered; that the sleeping areas have multiple exit areas so a fire in one area won't block all escapes; that they enforce small vessel owners and operators are conducting roving patrols; and that they keep escape paths unobstructed.

The NTSB's final recommendation was that the Coast Guard require all passenger boat operators to have safety management systems.

The agency says that the disaster could have likely been avoided if Truth Aquatics, the operator of the Conception, had a safety management system that identified fire risks and unsafe practices.