Santa Barbara- S County

34th Conception fire victim found as U.S. Coast Guard issues urgent safety bulletin

Tough rules and inspections ahead

Salvage operations continue for the dive boat Conception as officials announce the 34th body has been found.

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Salvage operations continue off Santa Cruz Island as the 34th victim in the Conception boat tragedy is located in the waters where the dive ship went down September 2.

Sheriff Bill Brown says multiple agencies are working together above and below the surface on the complex investigation.   It's unlike anything the department has handled in the scope of the human lives lost.

Brown spoke to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors Tuesday says this tragedy was "the worst disaster in terms of loss of human life in the recorded history of our county."

He also said contact has been made with all families.  "We have reached out to people across our country as well as China , Japan, India and Singapore."

Investigators are working both in Santa Barbara at the coroners office and in Sacramento on the identification process.

"We are in the final stages of doing the DNA analysis.  We been waiting for some of the last samples to get to us for comparative purposes but we expect over  the next few days we hope to complete the analysis of the victims," said Brown.

Once the Conception is brought to the surface, it will be secured to a salvage vessel and transported on shore to a secure location.   Those familiar with the operation say it will likely be  covered in a special protective wrap to keep anything from breaking off on the trip back to shore.

Divers will continue to retrieve items that fell to the ocean floor as evidence.   That includes boat parts such as equipment in the galley, generators, and electronics that may still be useful in the investigation along with pieces of of the burnt vessel. 

At the memorial site in front of the SeaLanding headquarters in the Santa Barbara harbor, the father and brother of a 26-year old victim Wei Tan looked over pictures and flowers left in her honor.  The father did not identify himself and had only a few comments before he left.   

In his arms were the ashes of his daughter he had just picked up and will bring back to his home in Singapore.

 

U.S. COAST GUARD ALERT TO BOAT OPERATORS

The United States Coast Guard issued a new emergency recommendations regarding safety and preparedness following the dive boat Conception tragedy.

The Coast Guard bulletin identifies regulations related to "firefighting, lifesaving, preparations for emergencies, and means of escape."

The bulletin recommends that owners and operators of passenger vessels review safety routes, emergency duties, make sure all firefighting and lifesaving equipment is working properly.

The listed recommendations are below:

  • Review the routes and conditions listed on the vessel's Certificate of Inspection (COI) including the number of passengers and overnight passengers permitted. Ensure crew members are aware of and clearly understand their obligations including any additional requirements detailed on the COI.
  • Review emergency duties and responsibilities with the crew and any other crew member in a safety​​​​​​​ sensitive position to ensure they comprehend and can comply with their obligations in an emergency to​​​​​​​ include the passenger safety orientation. Ensure emergency escapes are clearly identified, functional,​​​​​​​ and remain clear of objects that may impede egress.
  • Review the vessel log book and ensure records of crew training, emergency drills, and equipment​​​​​​​ maintenance are logged and current. Additionally, it is recommended that the master complete log​​​​​​​ entries to demonstrate to the Coast Guard that the vessel is operating in compliance with routes and​​​​​​​ conditions found on the COI.
  • Ensure all required firefighting and lifesaving equipment is onboard and operational.
  • Reduce potential fire hazards and consider limiting the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries​​​​​​​ and extensive use of power strips and extension cords.
  • Review the overall condition of the passenger accommodation spaces and any other space that is​​​​​​​ readily available to passengers during the voyage for unsafe practices or other hazardous arrangements. 

The Coast Guard says owners, operators, or masters of passenger vessels that are unsure of the requirements placed on the vessels are encouraged to contact their local Officer in Charge, Marine Inspection. 

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

A full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Conception fire is underway by both the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB expects their full report to be completed in 12-18 months.

Both the Coast Guard and NTSB can issue safety recommendations prior to the completion of any investigations.


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