A recent California boating incident resulted in the tragic death of 34 people after a fire broke out on the vessel in the middle of the night. The boat was being used for a diving excursion to the Channel Islands about 20 miles south of Santa Barbara.
At the time of the fire, the 75-foot dive boat called Conception held 33 passengers and one crew member in the bunk room below and five crew members (including the captain) in the bridge area. The bunk room had two escape routes – a stairway to the galley and an emergency hatch – neither leading directly to water.
The surviving crew members say they attempted to rescue those trapped in the bunk room. Fire, smoke, and heat blocked the emergency hatch and the galley doors were on fire blocking the stairway. They also tried breaking windows at the front of the vessel but failed. They then abandoned ship and escaped to a nearby boat.
Investigations are Underway
It is too soon to tell what caused the fire on the Conception. A multi-agency effort is underway to investigate the incident. The National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI, and local law enforcement authorities are all involved. Determining the cause of the fire may be difficult due to how little evidence remains. The ship lays destroyed in 60 feet of water. The tides have carried away other items that could provide clues to the cause of the accident.
The civil investigations are looking into issues regarding whether the ship was in a seaworthy condition and whether the owners and/or operators neglected their duty to passengers. This will include trying to determine whether the bunk room was too cramped and had enough exits and whether relevant equipment (safety and otherwise) was properly examined and maintained.
The criminal investigations will try to determine if the captain and/or crew created a situation that put people at risk of injury or death. If so, criminal charges could be bought involving reckless endangerment and potentially a finding of involuntary manslaughter.
Action Taken to Limit Liability
Truth Aquatics, Inc., the owners of Conception, have preemptively filed legal action to limit payout to victims’ families to zero citing the Limitation of Liability Act. 46 U.S.C. 30501 et seq. The law dates back to 1851 and states that if a vessel provided for travel at sea is seaworthy, then payouts for accidents involving the vessel are limited to the value of the vessel after the accident. Similar suits have been brought in other high profile maritime disasters, including the sinking of the Titanic in 1921 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
Truth Aquatics claims that Conception was, at the time of the incident, seaworthy, fully and properly maintained, equipped and supplied, and fit for the service in which it was engaged. Since the Conception is worth zero dollars, the lawsuit could enable Truth Aquatics to avoid compensating survivors of the victims. Surviving family members have six months to challenge Truth Aquatics’ claim.
Cape May Maritime Accident Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Seek Maximum Compensation for Boat Accident Victims and Their Families
If you or a loved one has been injured in a recreational boating accident, reach out to an experienced Cape May maritime accident lawyer at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. We work tirelessly to ensure accident victims and their loved ones receive the full compensation to which they are entitled. Call us at 888-999-1962 or submit an online contact form to schedule a free consultation. Our offices in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, New Jersey serve clients throughout the South Jersey area, including those in Cape May, Gloucester, and Wildwood. We also have offices in Pinehurst to assist clients in North Carolina.