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U.S. safety board: Lack of oversight by boat owner led to fire that killed 34 on California scuba diving excursion

NTSB: Watchman could have saved lives in California boat fire
conception boat fire.jpg
Posted at 12:47 PM, Oct 20, 2020

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The lack of oversight by a Southern California boat owner led to a fire that killed 34 people on a 2019 scuba diving excursion.

The predawn fire aboard the Conception is one of California’s deadliest maritime disasters, prompting criminal and safety investigations.

The Sept. 2, 2019, tragedy killed 33 passengers and one crew member on a Labor Day weekend expedition near an island off Santa Barbara.

The National Transportation Safety Board ruled Tuesday to place the deadly fire’s blame with the Conception’s owner, Truth Aquatics Inc. The NTSB board also said inadequate Coast Guard regulations contributed to the high death toll.

Federal investigators say the lack of a required roving night watchman aboard the scuba dive boat delayed the detection of the fire.

Investigators told the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday that because the boat burned and sank, they couldn't determine what caused the fire. But they found that it began toward the back of the main deck salon area, where divers had plugged in phones, flashlights and other items with lithium ion batteries that can spread flames quickly.