Operator of Dive Boat Conception Suspends Operations

Conception (file image courtesy Truth Aquatics)

By The Maritime Executive 10-02-2019 07:15:17

Truth Aquatics, the operator of the ill-fated dive boat Conception, announced Tuesday that it has suspended operations indefinitely amidst multiple federal investigations into the vessel's loss. 

The dive boat Conception burned and sank in the early hours of September 2 off Santa Cruz Island, California. 34 people lost their lives in the accident, putting it among the ranks of the deadliest civilian marine casualties in recent U.S. history.

"With the continued calls and request for tours, we want to announce that we are officially suspending all operations of our Truth Aquatic fleet for a to-be-determined amount of time," the firm said in a statement. "Right now we feel it’s important dedicate our entire efforts to make our boats models of new regulations that we will continue to work on with the NTSB and Coast Guard."

The design of the Conception has come under scrutiny: her lower berthing area, where all victims were located prior to the fire, had an emergency escape hatch located above a bunk bed . NTSB investigator Jennifer Homendy told reporters that she was "taken aback" by the small dimensions of the hatch after touring Conception's sister ship Vision. The U.S. Coast Guard has said that Conception passed all inspections prior to the accident. 

“You have to climb up a ladder and across the top bunk and then push a wooden door up,” Homendy said at a press conference. “It was a tight space. We couldn’t turn the light on.”

A team from Global Diving and Salvage raised Conception earlier this month and brought it to a naval facility at Port Hueneme. The NTSB and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are examining the wreckage in an attempt to gather as much evidence as possible. 

Initial speculation about the cause of the fire has focused on rechargeable devices. Passengers aboard previous trips on the Conception noted that divers would charge dozens of personal electronic devices with lithium-ion batteries - cell phones, camera batteries, underwater scooter batteries - using the boat's electrical outlets. The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a preliminary warning to passenger boat operators to consider limiting unsupervised battery charging and excessive use of extension cords or power strips. 

The vessel's design and fittings are not the sole focus of the inquiry. According to testimony from three of the five surviving crewmembers, all personnel on board were asleep at the time the fire broke out. The National Transportation Safety Board believes that based upon available evidence, no member of the crew was performing the duties of a roving watchstander while the vessel lay at anchor, as required by the vessel's COI.