Coast Guard announces new safety rules after deadly fire

By Stephanie Diazio and Brian Meley | The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – The Coast Guard announced new safety regulations, including the installation of fire detection and suppression equipment, after a fatal fire broke out on a scuba diving boat off the California coast more than two years ago.

The Labor Day 2019 fire aboard the Conception of Santa Barbara marked the deadliest maritime disaster in the history of the modern state and called for criminal charges and stricter rules for small passenger ships.

The new interim rules will be effective over the next two years. In addition to fire systems, owners of boats with overnight passengers will need to, among other things, provide better escape from below deck and use equipment that ensures that a night watchman is alert and persistent. Whirling.

An investigation into the disaster blamed the concept’s owners for a lack of oversight and the boat’s captain for failing to post a wandering watchman on the ship, causing the fire to spread quickly and 33 passengers below deck. And one crew member was allowed to be trapped. Captain Jerry Boylan and four crew members, who were all sleeping on top of the deck, escaped.

Boylan has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of murder of the sailor. He is free on bond awaiting trial in US District Court in Los Angeles.

The new rules were expected after Congress mandated in December 2020 that the Coast Guard review its rules for small passenger ships. The legislation included in the National Defense Authorization Act also added new requirements regarding fire detection and suppression.

The new rules apply to small passenger vessels that have sleeping quarters or those operating on ocean or coastal routes, but do not include fishing boats and ferries.

The National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation recommended that the Coast Guard require boat owners to install more comprehensive smoke detector systems, upgrade emergency exits, and conduct mandatory inspection checks on revolving watches.

Since 1991, no owner, operator or charterer has been issued a citation or fine for failure to post a rowing patrol, prompting the NTSB to blame the Coast Guard for not enforcing that requirement. and recommended that a program be developed to ensure boats with passengers actually overnight. There are watchmen.

The rules require boats to have at least two exits, so there is another way to escape if one is unavailable. The exit must be clear and both cannot be directly over the same berth.

The Conception bunkroom had an open ladder towards the bow and a small escape hatch that was difficult to reach and climb over a bunk in the center of the boat. However, the two took to the galley, which was in flames.

Family members of those who died have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the boat company, Truth Aquatics Inc., and the family that owned it. They have also sued the Coast Guard for laxity that they say ruined the people below deck.

The families said fire detection and suppression systems were out of compliance, and the two escaping from the bunkroom violated Coast Guard rules because they went to the same location.
The boat had passed its two most recent Coast Guard security inspections.

The Coast Guard has declined to comment on the lawsuit due to its policy of not discussing pending litigation.

The rules, published late last month in the Federal Register, take effect on March 28 and could be changed after the public comment period ends in June.

Other new requirements include improved crew training, escape exercises for passengers and guidance on how to handle flammable items such as rechargeable batteries.

While investigators said they could not determine what caused the fire as the boat burned down and sank, they say the fire started behind the main deck saloon – where divers found a vehicle containing phones, flashlights and combustible lithium-ion batteries. Other stuff was plugged in.

After the fire, the Coast Guard issued a bulletin recommending a limit on the uncontrolled use of lithium-ion batteries and the widespread use of power strips and extension cords.

Associated Press journalist Janet McConaughey contributed from New Orleans.