U.S. Coast Guard Convenes Marine Board of Investigation into Conception Boat Fire

conception boat fire
FILE PHOTO: Mark Pazin, head the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Law Enforcement Branch is shown after inspecting Truth Aquatic’s Vision ship, one similar to the Conception involved in a pre-dawn fire and sank off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, U.S., September 3, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The U.S. Coast Guard will convene a formal Marine Board of Investigation to investigate the loss of the passenger dive boat Conception. 

The Conception caught fire and sank in the early morning hours of September 2, 2019, just off Santa Cruz Island in California. Only five of the 39 people onboard survived.

Deputy Command for Operations, Vice Adm. Dan Abel, announced the convening of the MBI on Wednesday. A commandant-directed formal Marine Board of Investigation is the highest-level marine casualty investigation in the Coast Guard.

The marine board will of four members who will investigate all aspects of the casualty including, but not limited to, the pre-accident historical events, the regulatory compliance of the Conception, crewmember duties and qualifications, weather conditions and reporting, safety and firefighting equipment, and Coast Guard oversight.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard has also issued a marine safety bulletin focusing on crew emergency duties and responsibilities, training, emergency escape routes, and limiting potential fire hazards, including unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and extensive use of power strips and extension cords.

“The Coast Guard is deeply saddened by the tragedy that occurred near Santa Cruz Island,” said Capt. Jason Neubauer, chair of the Marine Board of Investigation. “Our hearts go out to the victims, as well as their families and friends. The Coast Guard will conduct a thorough and detailed investigation to determine potential causal factors associated with this tragedy.”

During the course of the MBI, panel members must decide the factors that contributed to the accident; whether there is evidence that any act of misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence or willful violation of the law on the part of any licensed or certificated person contributed to the casualty; and whether there is evidence that any Coast Guard personnel or any representative or employee of any other government agency or any other person caused or contributed to the casualty.

“In some instances, our marine casualty boards identify pressing safety issues related to vessel stability, the engine room, or lifesaving and firefighting equipment,” said Neubauer. “In those instances, we issue safety alerts or bulletins to ensure a wide spread dissemination of the most recent safety guidance. All of our safety notices and lessons learned from investigations are also publicly available online through our Coast Guard Office of Investigations and Casualty Analysis website.”

Separately, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are supporting a Department of Justice investigation and will work in close coordination with the US Attorney’s Office.

The safety bulletin is available online.