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'Seaman's Manslaughter' Charges Possible After Dive Boat Fire

NTSB says all 6 crew members were asleep
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 13, 2019 1:02 AM CDT
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The burned hull of the Conception is brought to the surface by a salvage team, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, off Santa Cruz Island, Calif.   (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via AP)
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(Newser) – A California scuba dive boat was operating in violation of Coast Guard regulations when crew members were sleeping and a pre-dawn fire killed 34 people, leaving grieving families wondering if a required night watchman could have saved their loved ones. Thursday brought a disclosure from the National Transportation Safety Board that all six crew members were asleep aboard the Conception on Sept. 2 when the deadly blaze broke out, the AP reports. The NTSB's findings could aid federal authorities conducting a criminal investigation into the fire, who could bring charges under a statute known as seaman's manslaughter. The law was enacted during the 19th century to punish negligent captains, engineers, and pilots for deadly steamboat accidents that killed thousands.

The Conception's Certificate of Inspection, issued by the Coast Guard, requires a "roving patrol at all times" when passengers' bunks are occupied. Five crew members, including the captain, were asleep on the vessel's second deck and survived. The sixth, a 26-year-old deckhand named Allie Kurtz, was sleeping below and perished with the boat's 33 passengers. Douglas Schwartz, an attorney for the Conception's owner, Truth Aquatics Inc., said in a statement that a crew member was awake shortly before the fire, which started around 3am. He said the crewman checked "on and around the galley area" around 2:30am. The cause of the Sept. 2 blaze has yet to be determined. Crews raised the wreckage of the burned-out boat Thursday from waters off Santa Cruz Island.

(Read more Conception dive boat stories.)

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