Earlier this month, we covered the federal investigation into a boat fire that claimed dozens of lives in California. “Conception,” a diving tour boat, burst into flames along the coast of Santa Cruz Island during the middle of the night. Five crew members were able to escape but 34 others, who were sleeping below deck at the time the fire began, were not so lucky. Federal agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Coast Guard had conducted multiple searches of the boat owner’s premises, seeking information related to training, safety, and maintenance records.
As the investigation into what caused the fire continues, many are suggesting that the proliferation of electronic devices being charged may have been a contributing factor. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the investigation is currently focused on a series of outlets in the ship’s galley, into which the passengers plugged their electronic devices. According to the report, the ship was constructed in the 1980s and was not equipped to handle numerous personal electronic devices, a common requirement for ship passengers today. While it has not come out to definitively pin the fire on faulty outlets, the US Coast Guard did issue a safety bulletin, warning owners of passenger vessels that they should immediately urge crews to “reduce potential fire hazards and consider limiting the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and extensive use of power strips and extension cords.”
Anticipating litigation arising from the fire, the shipowner filed for protection under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, arguing that it should not compensate any of the victims’ families for the fire. The company obviously expects to face lawsuits from loved ones of those who lost their lives in the fire. However, this week, a survivor of the fire has filed suit against the shipowner.
Ryan Sims had been working as a steward on the Conception for about three weeks prior to the fire. He filed a claim against the owner of the ship, claiming that the company was negligent because they failed to properly train crew members, did not provide adequate safety and medical equipment, failed to inspect the vessel, and several other claims. He is seeking punitive damages, attorney fees and medical costs from his injuries. According to the claim, he suffered serious physical injuries. He was forced to jump overboard when the fire started, and this resulted in a fractured leg, an injured his back, in addition to neck injuries.
The National Transportation Safety Board issued a preliminary report that disclosed that the vessel did not have a crewmember on overnight watch, something that was required under the ship’s certification to operate.