There were 39 people onboard Conception when flames engulfed the boat on Labor Day.
SANTA CRUZ ISLAND-A well-known boat out on a Labor Day Weekend diving trip near Santa Cruz Island with 39 passengers and crew members on board went up in flames in the pre-dawn hours of Labor Day, leading to an unimaginable, tragic loss in life. It is believed that all 33 passengers and one crew member onboard were killed.
There are always dangers when being out on the water, but nothing brings more shock and heartbreak than tragedy at sea. Members of The Log family send their heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of all the victims, as well as the entire Southern California diving community. That feeling has been echoed by many through a makeshift memorial at Santa Barbara Harbor. What happened before dawn on Conception, a Santa Barbara Harbor mainstay, is a reminder of what could unexpectedly go wrong while you are out on the water.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Santa Barbara County Fire and Sheriff’s departments are still investigating the incident. Many questions remain unanswered at this point including the cause; The Log will follow the developments in the investigation.
So far, it is clear that once the flames started, it was too late for any of the passengers below deck to escape. Five crew members survived, Coast Guard officials said they were on the top deck at the time of the incident and jumped overboard. The rest of the passengers were reported to be below deck asleep when the blaze broke out. As of Sept. 4, search and recovery divers had recovered 33 victims. The rescuers said there were no signs of additional survivors.
What’s not as clear, is what, if anything, could have been done to prevent such a tragedy. Coast Guard officials said that the vessel was in full compliance with inspections and other regulations, which included requirements the boat be equipped with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. Coast Guard officials also said the boat’s captain is required to conduct extensive safety briefings before the boat departs from the dock.
The Associated Press reported a 2016 inspection resulted in owners replacing the heat detector in the galley and one in 2014 cited a leaky fire hose. The AP reported records show all safety violations from the last five years were quickly addressed by the boat’s owners.
The boat was scheduled for a three-day diving excursion “to explore the pinnacles of San Miguel Island,” over the Labor Day weekend, according to Worldwide Diving Adventures’ website. The 75-foot commercial diving boat based out of the Santa Barbara Harbor departed Aug. 31 and was due back on the evening of Sept. 2. At about 3:30 a.m. Sept. 2, mayday calls reported a raging fire onboard. Those mayday calls included information that is still being investigated, including a statement that doors to the lower decks were locked and a reported explosion after the flames had already broken out.
“There is no indication at this point in the investigation that there was an explosion that preceded this fire,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said during a Sept. 3 press conference.
Coast Guard officials said there are no doors to bunk rooms, only curtains.
The crew members who survived paddled in a dinghy to a private boat anchored near the north shore of Santa Cruz Island.
Conception had been chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures, which says on its website that it has been taking divers on such expeditions since the 1970s.
Contact the Coast Guard at 310-521-4260 or 310-781-0619 for updates. The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department can be reached at 805-568-3400.