Families of the 34 victims of the dive boat Conception that caught fire near Santa Cruz Island two years ago, resulting in the deaths of all passengers and one crew member, sued the U.S. Coast Guard Wednesday in Los Angeles.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles federal court, alleges the Coast Guard failed to enforce regulations and allowed the vessel to operate with electrical and safety problems that resulted in the deaths.
The suit comes on the eve of the second anniversary of the fire, considered the worst maritime disaster in modern California history.
The boat's captain, Jerry Boylan, faces 34 counts of seaman's manslaughter in a separate suit for alleged "misconduct, negligence, and inattention" to duties leading to the 2019 fire on Labor Day weekend.
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The new lawsuit alleges that less than a year before the disaster, the Coast Guard certified the boat to carry 40 passengers overnight despite poor wiring and other issues aboard the Conception, a 75-foot, wood-and fiberglass passenger vessel that docked in Santa Barbara Harbor.
Among the nearly three dozen people trapped aboard the boat when it sank were two Santa Monica residents, Marybeth Guiney and Charles McIlvain, diving enthusiasts who lived in the same condominium complex.
During the predawn hours of Sept. 2, 2019, a fire broke out while the boat was anchored in Platt's Harbor near Santa Cruz Island.
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The fire, which engulfed the boat and led to its sinking, resulted in the deaths of the 34 people who had been sleeping below deck. Boylan was among five crew members who were able to escape and jump into the water.
The fire prompted criminal and safety investigations. Victims' families have also filed claims against the boat owners, Glen and Dana Fritzler and Truth Aquatics.
The company, in turn, filed a legal claim to shield them from damages under a maritime law that limits liability for vessel owners.
The families' suits allege that the 41-year-old Conception was in blatant violation of numerous Coast Guard regulations, including failing to maintain an overnight "roving" safety watch and failure to provide a safe means for storing and charging lithium-ion batteries, and that the below-decks passenger accommodations lacked emergency exits.