Salvors Recover Wreck of Dive Boat Conception

The derrick barge Salta Verde at the wreck site (USCG)

Published Sep 13, 2019 5:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard and Global Diving and Salvage completed the operation to raise and recover the burned dive boat Conception from waters off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, California. 

Recovery efforts began at sunrise and concluded in the afternoon after the vessel was hoisted, drained of water and secured aboard a barge. A safety zone remains in place one nautical mile surrounding the incident location, and response crews will remain on scene to continue with the cleanup of any hazardous material.

The derrick barge used in the recovery transited from the wreck site to Port Hueneme, California. According to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff, the vessel will be stored at a secure, undisclosed location under the custody of the National Transportation Safety Board. 

The state and local components of the response are winding down, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's office said at a press conference Thursday. These agencies played a key role in the effort, according to the sheriff: multiple localities contributed dive teams to help locate victims, and their work ultimately resulted in the successful recovery of the remains of all of the deceased. 

“I am proud of the unified response from the federal, state and local responders who have committed themselves to the safe recovery of the Conception,” said Capt. Monica Rochester, the Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach commander. “This tragedy has affected so many families and the Coast Guard will continue to support the efforts into the investigation."

At about 0300-0330 hours on September 2, the Conception caught fire and burned to the waterline with the loss of 34 lives, including all 33 passengers on board. The NTSB has released a preliminary fact-finding report based on currently available evidence, and it suggests that no watchstanders were on duty while the Conception lay at anchor that evening. 

"Of the five crewmembers that did survive, apparently none of them were awake," said NTSB chair Robert Sumwalt in an interview. "Part of the certificate [of inspection] for this vessel required that there be constantly a roving watchperson on the vessel, and the interviews to this point have indicated that that did not transpire."

The NTSB, Department of Justice, U.S. Coast Guard, Coast Guard Investigative Service, FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are conducting one criminal inquiry and two safety investigations into the circumstances surrounding the loss of the Conception.