Family members of most of the 34 people who died two years ago when a dive boat caught fire off Santa Cruz Island on Wednesday filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful death against the U.S. Coast Guard.
FILE – In this Sept. 2, 2019, file photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the dive boat Conception is engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast. Federal authorities are expected to vote Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 on what likely sparked a fire aboard a scuba dive boat last year that killed 34 people off the coast of Southern California. The pre-dawn blaze aboard the Conception is one of California’s deadliest maritime disasters, prompting both criminal and safety investigations into the Sept. 2, 2019 tragedy that claimed the lives of 33 passengers and one crew member on a Labor Day weekend expedition near an island off Santa Barbara. (Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP, File)
This July 12, 2020 file photo shows a standing memorial near the Santa Barbara harbor to the people who died aboard the Conception dive boat on Sept. 2, 2019. The crew aboard the scuba dive boat had not been trained on emergency procedures before the deadly fire broke out last year, killing 34 people in one of the state’s deadliest maritime disasters, according to federal documents released Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/John Antczak,File)
L to R, Jeffery Goodman, attorney, Robert Mongeluzzi, Attorney and Robert Glassman, attorney, at a press conference announcing the filing of a wrongful death and survival action claim on behalf of three passengers and one crew member killed in the Conception commercial dive boat fire off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA Monday, January 13, 2020. Pictured at right are victims Yulia Krashennaya, of Berkeley, CA and Kaustbh Nirmal and Dr. Sanjeeri Deopujari of Norwalk, Connecticut. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Robert Mongeluzzi, Attorney, left, and attorney Jeffery Goodman at a press conference announcing the filing of a wrongful death and survival action claim on behalf of three passengers and one crew member killed in the Conception commercial dive boat fire off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA Monday, January 13, 2020. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Jeffery Goodman, attorney, left, talks about the dive boat Conception fire as attorney Robert Glassman looks on Monday, January 13, 2020. Attorneys held a press conference announcing the filing of a wrongful death and survival action claim on behalf of three passengers and one crew member killed in the Conception commercial dive boat fire off the coast of Santa Barbara. Pictured are victims Yulia Normal of Berkeley and Kaustbh Nirmal and Dr. Sanjeeri Deopujari of Norwalk, Connecticut. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
This undated photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) shows the wreckage of the dive boat Conception on a dock in Southern California. Federal investigators say the lack of a required roving night watchman aboard a scuba dive boat delayed the detection of a fire that killed 34 people off the coast of Southern California. Investigators told the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 that because some of the passengers’ bodies were recovered wearing shoes, they believe they were awake and trying to escape before being overcome with smoke. (NTSB via AP)
The Coast Guard certified the boat, named Conception, to carry passengers after routine inspection in 2019 even though the “overburdened shipboard electrical system had been designed, developed, built, installed and refurbished without adequate fire protection,” alleged the lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles..
The Coast Guard under federal law conducts annual inspections and certifications of boats like the Conception, including biannual hull and structural examinations.
In 2018, a year before the massive fire, Conception’s sister ship, Vision, also owned by Truth Aquatics, nearly had its own fire, according to the lawsuit. Smoke rose from two lithium batteries that were plugged into a power strip on board, but a passenger was able to safely smother the fire.
The lawsuit alleges the Coast Guard, through its inspections, should have known that Truth Aquatics “added undocumented and ill-designed electrical outlets throughout the vessel for the purpose of battery charging” and encouraged passengers to charge their electronics on board, including lithium batteries.
In the early hours of Sept. 2, 2019, crew members on board discovered a fire that killed all 33 passengers on board and one crew member. It was the worst maritime disaster in California since the 1800s.
Federal safety officials blamed the disaster on Truth Aquatics’ lack of oversight, including having a required roving patrol that officials said could have alerted those on board earlier when the fire started.
The boat’s owners have also been sued by family members who allege wrongful death. The boat’s captain, Jerry Boylan, has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of manslaughter.
The Coast Guard has not yet responded to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages.
The Conception fire prompted the Coast Guard and Congress to reexamine small passenger vessel regulations and training exercises were implemented as part of a Coast Guard-wide overhaul aimed at reducing passenger vessel safety infractions that could result in deaths at sea, officials have said.
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