Families of 34 people killed in dive boat disaster sue Coast Guard – Red Deer Advocate
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Family members of the 34 people killed in a fire aboard a scuba diving boat off the coast of California two years ago have sued the U.S. Coast Guard over lax enforcement of the rules security guards who they say convicted the passengers.
An attorney who filed a wrongful death lawsuit Wednesday night in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles said the Coast Guard has repeatedly certified passenger boats as fire traps.
“If the Coast Guard had properly inspected Conception, she would never have been certified, never set sail, and these 34 victims would not have lost their lives,” attorney Jeffrey Goodman said in a statement. “Unfortunately, certification of non-compliant vessels is commonplace at the Coast Guard. Now is the time for the Coast Guard to be held accountable for its failures to protect these victims and prevent future maritime disasters on American waterways.
A Coast Guard spokesperson declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing ongoing litigation.
The Conception caught fire hours before dawn on September 2, 2019, killing all 33 passengers and one crew member who were sleeping below deck in a bunk room. It was one of the deadliest maritime disasters in recent US history.
Captain Jerry Boylan and four crew members who had been sleeping on the upper deck woke up in flames on the main deck below. They couldn’t put out the fire or save anyone and jumped into the ocean to survive after Boylan made a gasping distress call.
One of those surviving crew members, Ryan Sims, who broke his leg jumping off, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Boylan pleaded not guilty to federal manslaughter charges for ‘misconduct, negligence and inattention’ in failing to train his crew, conduct fire drills and have a traveling night watchman on duty when the fire declared himself.
The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the disaster did not find the cause of the fire, but blamed the ship’s owners for lack of supervision and said failure to post a night watch had allowed the flames to spread rapidly.
The NTSB faulted the Coast Guard for not enforcing the night watch requirement and criticized it for insufficient rules on smoke detectors and emergency exits. The council made several recommendations to the agency to improve safety on board passenger ships.
The Coast Guard, which has routinely ignored NTSB safety recommendations, said earlier this year it would make some of the suggested changes.
The Conception had passed its two most recent safety inspections, according to Coast Guard records.
But the lawsuit said the Coast Guard certified the boat negligently and negligently despite obvious violations, including an overloaded electrical system that could have started the fire. He said the wiring was not to marine standards and included cheap wire available at hardware stores.
Because the boat burned and sank, no cause for the fire was found. But investigators said it started in an area where passengers plugged in phones, flashlights and other items with combustible lithium-ion batteries.
The lawsuit said the boat’s fire detection and suppression systems were non-compliant and that the two means of escape from the sleeping quarters violated Coast Guard regulations because they led to the same location.
“They had two different ways out of the bunk room, but both led to the kitchen,” Goodman said. “When the fire is in the kitchen, how does that help?”
Family members of the dead also sued the company and family that owned the ship for wrongful death.
Brian Melley, The Associated Press