Authorities in California revealed on Monday that they had searched the offices of Truth Aquatics and two of its vessels. The investigation is in response to a fire that erupted on the company’s dive boat known as The Conception last week. The accident took the lives of 34 people and is one of the deadliest in California history. The U.S. Coast Guard, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office participated in the searches.
In the days following the accident, Truth Aquatics used the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 to sue their employees and families of victims. Though a common practice after disasters such as this, many experts question the law's use for these situations. The Limitation of Liability Act is a law which was created to govern a different generation of maritime travel. Today, this 150-year-old law is used by vessel owners to avoid accountability for negligent behavior.
A Criminal Probe Into Truth Aquatics Begins
Two law enforcement officials informed the Los Angeles Times that federal authorities had opened a criminal investigation into the incident. The criminal probe is examining the possibility of maritime safety violations by Truth Aquatics. According to The Times, sources have informed them that a preliminary investigation caused investigators to suspect serious safety deficiencies aboard The Conception.
Notably, the sources claimed that the vessel did not have a “roaming night watchman,” a person who is supposed to remain awake and alert passengers of danger. Surviving crew members also told investigators that they did not receive adequate training for fire emergencies and that passengers may not have heard a proper safety briefing.
Where Did the Fire Start on The Conception?
As investigators work to determine details about the accident, surviving crew members speculate that the fire began in the seating area of the galley. Jennifer Homendy, a board member from the NTSB, confirmed this in a comment.
“The galley area was engulfed in flames,” Homendy said. “They tried to enter through the double doors but couldn’t get in because of the flames. They tried to access the galley from the front through the windows, but the windows wouldn’t open.”
A nearby boater, who helped rescue surviving crew members, also mentioned this speculation. He said that one survivor believes the fire started in the galley, where electrical equipment was charging overnight.