Los Angeles

Raised From the Ocean, Conception's Wreckage Might Hold Answers in Dive Boat Fire

A salvage team recovered the scuba diving boat nearly two weeks after it burned off the coast of Southern California, leaving 34 people dead

The burned wreckage of a 75-foot boat the caught fire early Labor Day morning off the Southern California coast, killing 34 people on a holiday weekend scuba diving trip, arrived in a Ventura County port overnight after it was raised from the ocean floor. 

The Conception was in about 60 feet of water just north of Santa Cruz Island, where it caught fire early Labor Day morning near the end of a scuba diving trip with 39 people aboard. The wreckage, which was carefully raised from the water Thursday afternoon, is a key piece of evidence for investigators who are trying to determine how the fire started and how it could have been prevented. 

The boat was hoisted onto a barge for transport to Port Hueneme Naval Station, about 60 miles west of Los Angeles on the Ventura County coast, where it arrived early Friday. Federal investigators will examine the wreckage as they try to determine the cause and look into possible criminal charges.

The boat will be taken to a secure location.

Coast Guard officials said what remained of the boat was raised slowly to keep it intact for investigators. Operations were delayed several times due to weather conditions.

Santa Cruz Island is northwest of Los Angeles and about 20 miles from the mainland.

In a preliminary report released Thursday, federal investigators identified a violation of Coast Guard regulations. The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that all crew members on the boat Conception were asleep when the pre-dawn fire broke out Sept. 2.

Invesigators have said they're looking into whether anyone was assigned lookout duty in accordance with Coast Guard rules.

"A member of the vessel's crew shall be designated by the master as a roving patrol at all times, whether or not the vessel is underway, when the passenger's bunks are occupied," the boat's inspection certificate said as a condition of operation.

The preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report offered a brief timeline of the early morning fire, but did not identify a cause. James Hall, a former NTSB chairman, told The Associated Press a preliminary report is generally a summary of the early findings that relies on interviews, inspection documents and other records and a review of current maritime rules and regulations.

An attorney for Conception's owner issued a statement Thursday.

"Based on our internal investigation at this point, one crew member was awake and inspected the galley and saloon area as late as 2:30 a.m. to make sure everything was safe and sound. And, it was," said Douglas Schwartz, attorney for the owner of Truth Aquatics, which owned Conception.

The report was released as recommendations were issued by the Coast Guard that include limiting the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and the use of power strips and extension cords.

An ongoing criminal probe is being conducted by the FBI, Coast Guard and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.

Five crewmembers who jumped overboard survived after their efforts to help passengers and another crewmember in a sleeping compartment below deck were blocked by flames and smoke. All 33 passengers and the one crewmember who died have been identified.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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