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CBS Local 21 reports that in their findings, the NTSB stated that the Conception, a 75-foot recreational vessel, had a total of 33 passengers and 6 crew members on board at the time of the fatal incident. On the morning of September 2, 2019, a fire broke out on the ship, anchored in Platts Harbor, off Santa Cruz Island.
All 33 passengers and one crew member died in the blaze after being trapped in a berthing area. Both exits of the berthing area led to an enclosed portion of the vessel where the fire was raging above.
The NTSB said that it found the Conception’s captain had failed to post a roving night watchman on board. The lack of a watchman resulted in a fire that killed the 34 people trapped below decks.
Federal investigators with the NTSB also faulted the U.S. Coast Guard for failing to enforce the requirement that vessels with overnight passengers must have a night watchman.
Some bodies found after the tragedy were reportedly wearing shoes, indicating that they had been awake and trying to escape the fire. Because the boat sunk after it caught fire, investigators could not find
NTSB board member, Jennifer Homendy, traveled to Santa Barbara to tour the Conception’s sister ship. In a virtual hearing to investigate the tragedy, Homendy blasted the Conception owners, Truth Aquatics.
“I hate the term accident in this case because it is not an accident if you fail to operate your company safely,” she said.
While the Conception had passed a recent Coast Guard inspection, the NTSB said that both Truth Aquatics and the vessel captain had several complaints filed against them, including failure to train crew members on emergency procedures.
Surviving family members have filed suit against boat owners Glen and Dana Fritzler and Truth Aquatics. Court records indicate that the defendants have offered to settle lawsuits with dozens of the victims’ families.