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In wake of boat fire, Coast Guard sets out new safety rules on preparedness, battery charging

Richard Winton, Mark Puente and Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- The Coast Guard has issued new emergency safety requirements to passenger vessels in the wake of the Labor Day boat fire off Santa Cruz Island that killed 34 people.

The bulletin calls on boat operators nationwide to review safety measures, make sure safety equipment is operational and reduce potential hazards from lithium batteries, power strips and extension cords.

The cause of the worst maritime disaster in recent California history has not been determined. But there have been questions about whether the fire started at a charging station used by passengers for phones and other electronics in the galley or because of some lithium battery malfunction.

Federal investigators from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Coast Guard have spent the last two days searching the Santa Barbara Harbor office of Truth Aquatics, the operator of the dive boat Conception. The FBI on Tuesday also asked the public for any information -- including videos and photos -- about the dive boat.

The fire broke out during a weekend diving expedition, trapping the victims who were sleeping below deck. Five crew members who were on deck at the time were able to escape and said the fire was too intense to get anyone else out.

Investigators have been looking into possible shortcomings in the way the Conception was operated. Law enforcement sources told the Los Angeles Times last week that a preliminary investigation suggested serious safety deficiencies aboard the Conception.

 

They said the vessel lacked a "roaming night watchman" to remain awake to alert passengers of fire or other danger; some of the surviving crew members told investigators they didn't have adequate training to handle a major emergency; and passengers may not have received thorough safety briefings.

The Coast Guard's new safety requirements instruct the operators of passenger vessels to:

-- Review the routes and conditions listed on a vessel's Certificate of Inspection, 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 certificate.

-- Review emergency duties and responsibilities with the crew 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.

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