USCG Convenes Marine Board of Investigation for Dive Boat Fire

First responders battle the fire aboard the wreck of the Conception, Sept. 2 (Ventura County Fire Department)

By The Maritime Executive 09-11-2019 07:21:07

The U.S. Coast Guard has convened a Marine Board of Investigation (MBI) to examine the loss of the dive boat Conception, which burned and sank off Santa Cruz Island on September 2. One member of the crew and all 33 passengers died in the fire. 

An MBI is the Coast Guard's highest-level inquiry procedure, typically reserved for major casualties with multiple loss of life. The process often takes a year or more, including weeks of hearings and multiple in-depth technical reviews. MBI recommendations frequently lead to high-level marine safety policy changes. 

Capt. Jason Neubauer, the officer who led the MBI inquiry into the loss of the con/ro El Faro, will head the MBI for the Conception. “The Coast Guard is deeply saddened by the tragedy that occurred near Santa Cruz Island,” said Capt. Neubauer in a statement. “Our hearts go out to the victims, as well as their families and friends. The Coast Guard will conduct a thorough and detailed investigation.”

An MBI examines the factors that contributed to the accident; any possible evidence of misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence or willful violation of the law; and any possible evidence that any Coast Guard personnel or other government employees may have contributed to the casualty. In the event that the MBI uncovers pressing safety issues that may affect other vessels, it will warn the maritime community quickly rather than wait for the investigation's conclusion. The USCG has already issued a marine safety bulletin in connection with the Conception casualty, which calls on passenger vessel operators to:

  • Review the terms of their Certificate of Inspection;
  • Review crew emergency duties and responsibilities;
  • Ensure escape routes are clearly identified;
  • Ensure proper records are kept of crew training and emergency drills;
  • Ensure all required firefighting and lifesaving equipment is onboard and operational;
  • Consider limiting unsupervised lithium-ion battery charging and extensive use of extension cords and power strips
  • Review the overall condition of areas accessibly by passengers, including accommodations.

The Department of Justice is leading a separate criminal investigation into the loss of the Conception, and federal agents raided the vessel operator's office on Sunday. The Coast Guard's MBI will be coordinating with the DOJ before holding hearings or seeking more evidence from witnesses.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has launched its own parallel investigation into the loss of the Conception, as is typical for a marine casualty of this severity.