Criminal Investigation Launched for Diving Boat Fire

Investigating the Fire That Killed 34 People


Sept. 2, 2019, file photo, provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department and obtained courtesy of the Associated Press

The fire of a diving boat off the coast of Santa Cruz Island killed 34 out of 39 people aboard.

Janet Han, Section Editor

A criminal investigation has been launched investigating the boat fire that took thirty-four lives on Labor Day, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Only five survivors were reported from the thirty-nine passengers aboard the Conception, the diving boat that caught fire off the coast of Santa Cruz Island. Now, the federal authorities are investigating to see if any maritime laws were violated and if the incident was the result of criminal negligence. 

As of Tuesday, September 9, all but one body has been found. Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Lt. Erik Raney told the press that the body may not necessarily be inside the boat. 

As part of the investigation, Truth Aquatics, Inc., the owner of the Conception, was served a search warrant by the Coast Guard Investigative Service on Sunday, said Raney. The OC Register said, “agents with the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other agencies searched Truth Aquatics’ offices in Santa Barbara and the company’s two remaining boats.”

The Thursday after the fire, Truth Aquatics, Inc., filed a lawsuit under an 1851 maritime law that limits their liability. Many have criticized the move, calling it disrespectful to the families of the deceased, especially because they still have six months to official file claims. 

The Conception did not have certain safety measures such as a “roaming night watchman who remains awake to alert passengers of any fire or other danger,” according to what law enforcement officers told the Los Angeles Times. Crew members said they did not have “adequate training to handle a major emergency” and that “passengers may not have received thorough safety briefings.” 

Fire experts are planning to examine the vessel once it is brought up from the ocean to a Ventura dock, said the Los Angeles Times, and “the National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation that could result in recommendations that have a wider impact on the dive boat industry.” 

Part of the investigation by the NTSB is evaluating the smoke detectors, escape hatch, and fire extinguishers, board member Jennifer Homendy told CNN. 

“It’s a horrifying accident,” Raymond Nguyen (12) said, “especially because of how unexpected and sudden it was.”

So far, the weather has prevented the boat from being retrieved from the water, but sources told CNN that it may be brought up on Wednesday.