By STEFANIE DAZIO
The Coast Guard announced Wednesday it has issued new safety recommendations in the wake of a fatal boat fire off the Southern California coast that killed 34 people. The agency recommended limiting the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and the use of power strips and extension cords.
The bulletin also suggests that owners and operators of vessels review emergency duties with the crew, identify emergency escapes, check all firefighting and lifesaving equipment onboard, and look at the condition of passenger accommodation spaces for “unsafe practices or other hazardous arrangements.”
The cause of the Sept. 2 fire has yet to be determined. Salvage efforts to recover the Conception — which authorities have said is expected to aid the investigation — resumed this week after several days of weather delays.
Authorities have said they are looking at several factors in their investigation, including how batteries and electronics were stored and charged. They will also look into how the crew was trained and what crewmembers were doing at the time of the fire, which erupted in the middle of the night as the passengers slept.
The boat’s design will also come under scrutiny, particularly whether a bunkroom escape hatch was adequate.
The Coast Guard recommendations come as divers resumed a search for the last missing victim who died near Santa Cruz Island off Santa Barbara. Five of the Conception’s six crew members survived and told investigators they made multiple attempts to save people who were trapped below deck.
The FBI, Coast Guard and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles are conducting a criminal investigation, and the Coast Guard has convened a formal Marine Board of Investigation.
The four members of the board will look into “pre-accident historical events, the regulatory compliance of the Conception, crewmember duties and qualifications, weather conditions and reporting, safety and firefighting equipment, and Coast Guard oversight.”
That investigation is expected to take at least a year. The panel will seek to determine the factors that led to the fire, any possible evidence of misconduct, inattention to duty, negligence or willful ignorance of the law, and if any other factors caused or contributed to the deaths.
Coast Guard records show the Conception passed its two most recent inspections with no safety violations. Previous customers said the company that owns the vessel, Truth Aquatics, and the captains of its three boats, were very safety conscious.
Authorities have said 21 women and 13 men ranging from 16 to 62 years old appear to have died from smoke inhalation.