Families of 34 killed in liveaboard disaster sue US Coast Guard

MV Conception at dawn, shortly before it sank.
MV Conception at dawn, shortly before it sank.

Family members of the 34 people killed in a fire aboard a scuba diving boat off the California coast two years ago have sued the U.S. Coast Guard for lax enforcement of safety regulations that they say doomed the passengers, Associated Press reports.

MV Conception was one of three dive boats owned by Truth Aquatics, which operated charter excursions from Santa Barbara Harbor for groups of divers interested in exploring the Channel Islands, located close to the coast of Southern California.

On September 2, 2019, the 75-foot (23 m) dive boat caught fire and eventually sank off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, California. 33 passengers and 1 crew member were asleep below decks when fire broke out shortly after 3 a.m.  The crew members were forced by the fire to jump overboard but not before placing an initial mayday call to the Coast Guard and attempting to alert the passengers.

The rescue and recovery operations were coordinated by the United States Coast Guard.  A lawyer who filed the wrongful death lawsuit late Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles said the Coast Guard has repeatedly certified passenger boats that are fire traps.

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the vessel’s owners for lack of oversight and said failing to post a night watch allowed flames to spread quickly and faulted the Coast Guard for not enforcing the night watch requirement and criticized it for insufficient rules on smoke detectors and emergency escapes.