• Tom Girardi

California dive boat fire leaves many grieving and confused

Family and friends are grieving the loss of their loved ones after tragedy recently struck near Santa Cruz Island. They've unfortunately learned how quickly life can change for the worse when an exciting and fun diving excursion turned fatal.

The 75-foot dive boat Conception caught fire around 3:15 on Monday, September 2, trapping the passengers sleeping in bunk beds below deck. Two days later NBC reported that rescue crews have discovered the remains of 33 killed in the incident. They are still searching for one more missing person. Of all the people on the boat, only five crew members safely escaped.

What is the Conception's history?

Truth Aquatics, Inc. had operated the Conception out of Santa Barbara Harbor, much to the bewilderment of those familiar with the company. Frequent customers interviewed by the Los Angeles Times spoke of their wholehearted trust in the business. They also reported crew members began each excursion by providing information on how to proceed in case of an emergency.

Built in 1981, the Conception had the capacity to accommodate up to 46 people. The dive boat contained fire extinguishers and smoke alarms which worked to turn on emergency lighting. However, some speculate smoke or flames blocked exits from the bunk area. The Los Angeles Times additionally states the Conception passed U.S. Coast Guard inspections in February 2019 and August 2018.

What caused the fire?

There's currently no indication of how the fire began, but the National Transportation Safety board, the Santa Barbara County fire department and the sheriff's department are all investigating the accident.

Most boat fires typically start in the engine room, although it's uncertain whether this will prove true in the recent tragedy. The pure oxygen supposedly on board could have also increased the fire's intensity.

What can family members do?

A fun excursion turned tragic has left many family members mourning the losses of their loved ones and feeling hopeless. In instances of such tragedies, families of the deceased could file a lawsuit to hold Truth Aquatics Inc. responsible for the fatalities.

ABC News reports the company itself has filed a provision predating the Civil War that allows companies to limit their liability in maritime accidents. Truth Aquatics Inc. did this merely three days after the catastrophic fire. Families have only six months to challenge it.

Family members seeking compensation and who want to hold Truth Aquatics Inc. accountable need to bring their claims to court as soon as possible. Having to navigate the grieving and legal process simultaneously can leave families extremely overwhelmed. Consulting with an attorney could alleviate some stress the hurried legal process brings.