Raising the Titanic
September 6, 2019 9:26 AM   Subscribe

California boat fire to put spotlight on Titanic's legal defense, Reuters, Tom Hals, September 6, 2019 — "The company that owns a scuba dive boat that caught fire and sank off California, killing 34 people, has sought to avoid liability by invoking a 19th-century law [Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 (overview)] that has shielded vessel owners from costly disasters such as the sinking of the Titanic."

"The law allows the owner of a vessel to petition a federal court to exonerate it from damages, or limit damages to the post-accident value of the ship. Truth Aquatics said in its filing that the Conception was now worthless.

It really is antithetical to most fair-minded people and jurists to allow this old defense to potentially let someone off scot-free,” said Daniel Rose, an attorney with the Kreindler & Kreindler firm, which represents victims in maritime accidents.

The 1912 sinking of the Titanic on its maiden voyage, in which more than 1,500 people were killed, is a classic example of the law being successfully employed [In the Wake of ‘The TITANIC’: An Unsinkable Law (PDF)]. The ship’s owner, White Star Lines, was able to limit its liability in lawsuits in the United States to $92,000, which was the value of the lifeboats that survived the accident.
...
Truth Aquatics said in its court filing the fire was not “caused or contributed to by any negligence, fault or knowledge” on the part of Truth Aquatics. Legal experts said owners have to show an accident cannot be linked to something they did or should have done, and owners often try to pin the blame on a crew member.
...
The act was invoked [NYT, Oct. 18, 2018] in last year’s duck boat accident near Branson, Missouri, which killed 17 people."
posted by cenoxo (52 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
LA Times: California dive boat owner quickly asks judge to limit payouts to victims’ families

“It is pretty heartless when not all the bodies have been recovered to file something saying their lives are worthless,”
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:56 AM on September 6 [18 favorites]


I read the overview of the act and I have to say this is the kind of thing that makes people believe in Sovereign Citizen nonsense. The overview mentions the laws use in the case of rental jet skis and it is difficult to wrap my head around the idea that a negligent operator of a rental jetski who runs somebody over would have their liability limited because of a law from 1851.

Does anyone know if this completely does not apply when it comes to pollution incidents? I ask because every marina requires tenants to have liability insurance of (large number cannot remember 500k-1million) for this. Maybe that is a fine or federal?
posted by Pembquist at 10:03 AM on September 6 [5 favorites]


this is the kind of thing that makes people believe in Sovereign Citizen nonsense

Well, it's a boat. You'd sort of expect admiralty law to apply, no?
posted by ryanrs at 10:21 AM on September 6 [36 favorites]


On the Titanic at least they got the (wealthy) women & children off first, and (most) of the crew went down with the ship, including the captain. In this case, the crew scarpered and survived and all the passengers died.
posted by chavenet at 10:27 AM on September 6 [9 favorites]


Legal experts said owners have to show an accident cannot be linked to something they did or should have done, and owners often try to pin the blame on a crew member.

So the crew abandoned ship and survived while all the passengers went down with it, and the company is trying to say it's the crew's fault well before the cause of the fire has even been determined (as far as I'm aware?).

Surely there's the possibility that both the company AND the crew share some level of responsibility here?
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:34 AM on September 6 [4 favorites]


Yeah, the fact that the crew bailed and left the passengers to burn isn't a great look, but if the passage was already fully blocked by flame, it's possible there was nothing they could do. But it certainly raises some questions. How is it that commercial passenger boat design is allowed to have a single exit that _passes the galley_? If the crew were all but one awake and on deck, how did the fire go to inferno without them noticing it? And was there no firefighting equipment at all available, and if so how the heck was that allowed?

If there wasn't some neglect by company or crew, then clearly some safety laws for passenger boats need to change.
posted by tavella at 10:41 AM on September 6 [19 favorites]


If I were a prosecutor with any kind of jurisdiction, and I saw owner/operators trying to slime their way out of all civil liability like this, I'd be looking for ways to put them in jail.
posted by jamjam at 10:42 AM on September 6 [11 favorites]


More details from sources mostly remaining anonymous here.

Fritzler, the owner of the Concenption: Of the crew, he added: “They’re breaking down. They’re seeking counseling. It’s a very tough time for them.”

Meanwhile he's filing to limit all liability in a move that almost certainly would be hinged on blaming the crew. What a slimeball.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:49 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]


“It is pretty heartless when not all the bodies have been recovered to file something saying their lives are worthless"

They are not saying that their lives are worthless. They are saying that the boat is worthless, which is quite different.
posted by JackFlash at 10:59 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the fact that the crew bailed and left the passengers to burn isn't a great look, but if the passage was already fully blocked by flame, it's possible there was nothing they could do. But it certainly raises some questions. How is it that commercial passenger boat design is allowed to have a single exit that _passes the galley_? If the crew were all but one awake and on deck, how did the fire go to inferno without them noticing it? And was there no firefighting equipment at all available, and if so how the heck was that allowed?

I have a close relative in who is closely associated with the dive scene in SB and knows people involved in the incident. What they've heard is that the boat basically exploded under the crew, that they had no chance to attempt to save anybody or fight the fire, and that the crew were lucky to escape with their lives. People who know the boat are insistent that the fire could only have started in the galley (freak explosion of the propane tank?) or in the bunk room itself, where many, many personal electronic devices would have been plugged in to charge. Many believe that a lithium battery was the ultimate culprit. Blame is going to be extremely difficult to assign here, which means everybody is going to be blamed. It's going to be ugly for years and nobody's going to come out of it looking good.
posted by Rust Moranis at 11:07 AM on September 6 [30 favorites]


Similar to Rust Moranis: From talking to someone very knowledgeable in the certification side of the diving world, it sounds like this operator is well-regarded. He speculated the cause could have been something like an un-noticeable pinhole leak in a propane container, which could have filled the below-decks with enough gas that a small spark would have caused the whole place to be full of flames basically instantly. The only reason the crew survived is they happened to not be belowdecks at that instant. This is a horrible event but that doesn't mean the surviving crew are villains.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:25 AM on September 6 [43 favorites]


They are not saying that their lives are worthless. They are saying that the boat is worthless, which is quite different.

The whole point of invoking the Limited Liability Act is to cap the value of the lives lost at the value of the boat. So by invoking 46 USC ch. 305 and claiming that the boat is without salvage value, they are saying, as a matter of law, that the victims' lives are worthless.

FWIW, I'd be very surprised if the owner's litigation strategy weren't being dictated by one or more insurance carriers, so personal morality or lack thereof is probably irrelevant.

US law, state and federal, is littered with these sorts of liability giveaways to private industry, many of which (like this one) have metastasized far beyond their originally intended scope. They are a brutal testament to the effectiveness of the ownership class's long and determined campaign to nail shut the courthouse door.
posted by shenderson at 11:34 AM on September 6 [23 favorites]


What little I know about practiced maritime law is simply that it is mostly bonkers and a patchwork of a lot of weird old laws, concepts and ideas about seafaring that don't really map to terrestrial laws in a lot of places.

As I understand it a lot of it comes down to the concept that the ocean isn't (legally) a thing itself but a sort of legal negative space or void that's considered more as a transmission medium, interface and space between nations - and a lot of these rules were originally created and enforced by a patchwork of hundreds and hundreds of years of naval warfare, diplomacy, trade, truces and treaties which is how we ended up with concepts like international waters, anti-piracy laws, salvage and rescue laws, mutual aid/assistance laws and so on in the first place.

See: The Law of the sea. Related: Custom of the sea.

This sort of conceptual negative space or room in maritime law is effectively evolved from the idea that the ocean is a fearsome, chaotic place and events like freak storms that sank your cargo ship are effectively acts of God. But this allows for stuff like garbage dumping, bilge and sewage pumping, over fishing and other exploitative practices in open or uncontrolled waters, as well as bullshit legal defenses like the one in the post based on ancient vessel salvage laws.

It's worth noting that a whole lot of this maritime law was codified in the ages of European expansionism, colonialism and massive trading companies. There's a hodgepodge of laws that were effectively designed or evolved to limit some or all direct liability to the government, monarchies or business or trading concerns actually funding most of these ships and effectively shift some of that liability to, well, the ocean itself. Or to the Captain of the ship. Because the risks and liabilities were/are large.

So, some of these salvage laws are the same laws that allow for private citizens to become licensed and inspected to do vessel aid like fuel or towing services as well as recovery, rescue and salvage and charge money for it, not unlike a private tow truck service. And these are actually essential maritime services, but can be, uh, grifty like a private tow truck service or impound lot.

But if your boat sinks or you run aground and you can't self rescue or recover (with, say, another boat you own or your own seamanship skills) the USCG may order a recovery whether you like it or not - or you may call one of these rescue and salvage operations yourself, which is the proper thing to do before you foul the water with a sinking boat.

Anyway, the methods and rules vary but the end result is the same in that you now legally owe the rescue/salvage operation a sizeable amount of money. You can buy salvage insurance for this kind of thing that specifically addresses these costs that have nothing to do with paying anything to repair or replace the boat itself, it's just to keep you from going into an insane amount of debt for salvage services after the hole in the water that you throw money into sinks and stops being a useful hole in the water.

And in these salvage operations there's a set of conditions and rules that salvage operators can lay claim to some amount of value of the boat itself due to some of these arcane maritime laws. If you run aground or get stuck on a reef or even sink your boat and you formally abandon ship - that abandoning ship actually legally means something in maritime and in salvage laws, and under the correct conditions it means you are indeed abandoning ship to the sea and relinquishing ownership or control of it and it is now open to free salvage and recovery.

This is why the Captain is supposed to go down with the ship, above and beyond safety of crew or passengers. They are effectively legally obligated to do so by maritime laws or risk losing legal ownership of the vessel.
posted by loquacious at 11:37 AM on September 6 [22 favorites]


He speculated the cause could have been something like an un-noticeable pinhole leak in a propane container, which could have filled the below-decks with enough gas that a small spark would have caused the whole place to be full of flames basically instantly.

I occasionally sail on a commercially coded ship and we are required to have gas detectors/alarms to guard against exactly this scenario. Fitting these is the sort of thing owners are responsible for, although they might delegate checks and maintenance to crew.

And they do need to be maintained. In my experience the sensors only last a year or two.
posted by automatronic at 11:37 AM on September 6 [5 favorites]


I lost three people on this boat, and speaking only for myself, I'm finding it unpleasantly jarring to start thinking about mundane questions of liability and money. No amount of dollars would be enough, so in some sense, it hardly matters. It would make a difference for some families, though, and what I'd like is for laws to put people first.
posted by spindrifter at 11:40 AM on September 6 [68 favorites]


Sorry for your loss spindrifter.

.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:50 AM on September 6 [20 favorites]


More details (and case examples) of the Limitation of Liability Act in Defeating Limitation of Liability in Maritime Law, a reprint from Trial magazine, February 2006:
...When the law was enacted, there was a compelling reason to limit liability. Going to sea was a venture filled with peril and uncertainty. Wrongful death, personal injury, and cargo damage claims from a sinking or catastrophic fire could expose a shipowner to liability far greater than the value of the vessel. This could discourage vessel owners and investors from engaging in maritime commerce.

The law limits liability for things a shipowner cannot control, such as the negligent actions of an officer on the other side of the world. It also limits liability for unseaworthy conditions of which the owner could not reasonably know. Limitation of liability was invoked in the loss of the Titanic, which in April 1912 struck an iceberg and sank, taking more than 1,500 lives. In the wrongful death and injury lawsuits that followed, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes held that the Titanic’s British owner should be allowed to limit liability to the ship’s postcasualty value, which amounted to about $92,000 for a cluster of its remaining lifeboats....
posted by cenoxo at 11:50 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]


The law doesn't really surprise me. Air carriers have a similar liability shield, so it's not like this is just some hoary old nonsense from the 19th century. Very similar laws have been passed within recent memory.

The Montreal Convention, for example, which was negotiated in the late 1990s, limits the liability of an air carrier to 113,100.00 SDR. (An SDR is a weird basket of currencies, used in international treaties and by the IMF, tl;dr: it works out to something like $170k USD.) I'm not entirely clear whether that limit is per person or per incident, but in either case it's a lot less than what you might get if someone negligently killed you on land. Basically, the second you step onto an aircraft, your life is worth a lot less.

It wouldn't surprise me if there's similar stuff for interstate buses and passenger rail, although IIRC Amtrak has a fairly high cap of something like $200mm per incident as the result of its special weirdo-government-monopoly status.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:55 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile he's filing to limit all liability in a move that almost certainly would be hinged on blaming the crew. What a slimeball.
I'm a boater and a diver and although I don't know the guy personally, I know many people who do. He is a very well respected and by all accounts nice and safety conscious guy -- not someone who is maximizing every dollar. For whatever that's worth.

In any event, it is completely wrong to make moral judgments about the owner from the legal strategy employed by his insurance carrier. Like any business, they carry insurance to deal with their liability in the event of an accident (which is extremely expensive for dive companies for obvious reasons). Once the accident is reported, the legal strategy to pay or not pay damages is 100% outside the hands of the dive shop. The legal filing is a tactic employed by the insurance company. So, you might well say its sleazy and I don't disagree, but it doesn't really reflect on the dive boat company or the owner.
posted by Lame_username at 12:13 PM on September 6 [28 favorites]


There are very strong regulations for propane tanks on passenger vessels. They have to be mounted above the waterline and kept in an enclosed box isolated from passengers and with a drain to allow the gas to vent off harmlessly. There also has to be a shutoff switch by the cookstove and lots of other safety rules. Propane also has a horrible odor that would be likely to be detected before it exploded. Many commercial boats use induction stovetops or other cooking methods and don't even carry propane.

Another possible source of an explosion would be oxygen tanks. They are not as well regulated because only dive boats and medical boats would carry those tanks. I know that this company advertised Nitrox (a Nitrogen/Oxygen mixture that lets you dive deeper and longer in safety) and most Nitrox fill systems require large Oxygen bottles.
posted by Lame_username at 12:25 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]


The legal filing is a tactic employed by the insurance company. So, you might well say its sleazy and I don't disagree, but it doesn't really reflect on the dive boat company or the owner.

Thanks for the education on that. The Reuters article in the OP stated that it was Truth Aquatics that filed the petition, but I guess based on your explanation it must have been their insurer on behalf of them, or them doing it at the express directive of their insurer.

I revise my slimeball statement to be directed at whichever insurance people thought this was necessary before they finished finding all the bodies.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:27 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


Propane also has a horrible odor that would be likely to be detected before it exploded.

Random fact, but the smell - just like that for the gas that is piped to your home for your stove/oven - isn't natural to the gas. It's intentionally added by the gas manufacturers specifically so that leaks can be detected more rapidly by consumers.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:29 PM on September 6 [7 favorites]


This is why the Captain is supposed to go down with the ship, above and beyond safety of crew or passengers. They are effectively legally obligated to do so by maritime laws or risk losing legal ownership of the vessel.

No, it is not true that a captain is legally obligated to go down with the ship. That's nonsense. The captain is legally obligated to do everything in his power to save passengers and cargo, but that does not entail "going down with the ship."
posted by JackFlash at 12:54 PM on September 6 [9 favorites]


> I lost three people on this boat, and speaking only for myself, I'm finding it unpleasantly jarring to start thinking about mundane questions of liability and money. No amount of dollars would be enough, so in some sense, it hardly matters. It would make a difference for some families, though, and what I'd like is for laws to put people first.

Same (I'm guessing possibly the same three people).
posted by gingerbeer at 12:59 PM on September 6 [14 favorites]


He is a very well respected and by all accounts nice and safety conscious guy

That may be true but per the LA Times article investigators have preliminarily concluded there were "serious safety deficiencies aboard the vessel" including some of the most basic aspects like having given a safety briefing to passengers.
posted by Justinian at 1:18 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


>You put it so well, spindrifter — that’s exactly what I’d hoped to have written. I lost one. I couldn’t start reading these articles of unfolding facts. Instead, went to a get-together here in Welly and spent time with those who knew him. I’ve been scouring FB, surprisingly hungry for stories of him and had to ask friends to stop being amateur detectives because I was afraid his partner would see that and she’d have unnecessary pain.
posted by lemon_icing at 1:24 PM on September 6 [8 favorites]


If the event occurred in water where the marine admiralty law has jurisdiction it's case law established well prior to the USA and is an entire world different than what would be familiar to land dwellers. Pretty much propane should not be allowed on boats, there is gas that's lighter than air, but no very available.

My heart goes out the the families and everyone connected to that community.
posted by sammyo at 1:50 PM on September 6


... per the LA Times article investigators have preliminarily concluded there were "serious safety deficiencies aboard the vessel" including some of the most basic aspects like having given a safety briefing to passengers.

The article doesn't actually say whether or not a safety briefing was given.
The probe also has raised questions about whether the crew was adequately trained and whether passengers received a complete safety briefing.
I think the only definitive deficiency mentioned in the article is the "lack of a 'roaming night watchman' who is required to be awake and alert passengers in the event of a fire or other dangers". The rest are "questions" and "concerns".
posted by jjwiseman at 4:45 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


Technically true but usually "raised questions" is code for "they believe, but have not yet definitively proven".
posted by Justinian at 5:05 PM on September 6


Given all the passengers died, I'd guess it would be impossible to prove whether a safety briefing was skipped. But they should be able to determine where the fire ignited. The theory about a lithium battery in the bunk room seems unlikely. Where those are dangerous are in unmonitored areas. I don't see how a lithium battery fire in a room with 24 people, even if they are sleeping, gets so big so fast that no one was even able to leave the bunkroom. And it was a matter of smoke -- how the hell was there no smoke detectors?

(As the company is trying to shift blame to the crew, I notice the crew is trying to shift blame to the passengers. Shit rolls downhill and the dead can't defend themselves.)
posted by tavella at 8:21 PM on September 6


How is it that commercial passenger boat design is allowed to have a single exit that _passes the galley_?

Most boats are set up this way: the windows on the galley would have opened and the would have been alarms. I've spent countless nights in similar set ups at sea.

Boat people are very, very conscious of fire. Very little is flammable on most commercial boats. It must have gone up incredibly fast for this to have happened. My guess is also lithium ion battery(s) unfortunately. They burn so hot- I know someone who had a bad radio battery catch fire and burn down an entire large wet canvas tent in a rainstorm.

And it was a matter of smoke -- how the hell was there no smoke detectors?

That's a hell of an accusation to make when you have no first hand information. The company was well regarded and passed inspection.
posted by fshgrl at 9:02 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]


Given that those autopsied so far died of smoke inhalation, and the crew is claiming that the ship exploded underneath them, then if there were any smoke detectors then they weren't working. Since the fire would have had to been burning long enough to be fatal to the passengers before the explosion of flames, otherwise they would have died of burns. Which means that neither a couple dozen sleeping passengers nor the awake crew heard a smoke alarm.
posted by tavella at 9:16 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure the best way to put this, and given that multiple people in this thread have said they knew multiple people who died, I think we should all take care to make sure we fully considered how we express our thoughts.

I think it's possible that a lithium battery exploded in a place that trapped passengers in a location that would have resulted in severe smoke inhalation even with working smoke alarms.

I also think that expressing absolute certitude as to what happened is rather disrespectful to those who lost friends.
posted by I paid money to offer this... insight? at 9:58 PM on September 6 [15 favorites]


[Well put, I paid money to offer this... insight? Folks, guessing doesn't forward the conversation, and people posting here were personally affected, so please be sensitive.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 10:24 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]


No, it is not true that a captain is legally obligated to go down with the ship. That's nonsense. The captain is legally obligated to do everything in his power to save passengers and cargo, but that does not entail "going down with the ship."

They are effectively legally obligated to do so by maritime laws or risk losing legal ownership of the vessel.

I'm specifically talking about salvage laws and what "abandoning ship" means in maritime law.

I'm not saying the captain is legally obligated to sink and/or perish with a sinking ship as some sort of weird fatalistic nobility or something.
posted by loquacious at 10:26 PM on September 6


They are effectively legally obligated to do so by maritime laws or risk losing legal ownership of the vessel. I'm specifically talking about salvage laws and what "abandoning ship" means in maritime law.

If the ship sinks, there is little or nothing to salvage. Why would a captain "go down with the ship?" That's just romantic nonsense.

If a captain abandons a ship that is still afloat and another boat comes along and puts a line on it and saves that ship, then they become the new owners of that ship. That gives them a right to sell the ship back to the original owners for a salvage fee. The reasoning behind that law is to encourage salvage tugs to undertake the risky and dangerous proposition of saving stricken ships to prevent them from sinking. It just means that a captain should not abandon a ship that is salvageable or he risks losing ownership of the ship. It has nothing to do with "going down with the ship."
posted by JackFlash at 10:44 PM on September 6


If the ship sinks, there is little or nothing to salvage. Why would a captain "go down with the ship?

Cargo. The demands of ownership place higher value on the freight than the life of the captain, which set the expectation for the captain to retain the chain of ownership at any cost.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:40 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


Courthouse News Service has published a link (PDF) to the six page "Complaint for Exoneration From Or Limitation of Liability", filed by Truth Aquatic's attorneys on 9/5/2019 in U.S. District Court, Central District of California.

Searching CNS
for 'Complaint for Exoneration From Or Limitation of Liability' gives some older CNS stories involving other plaintiffs and circumstances.

Wikipedia article: Sinking of MV Conception > Aftermath:
...Truth Aquatics suspended operations on their remaining two boats following the disaster.[17] The company also filed a lawsuit in United States District Court for the Central District of California, claiming limited liability under Limitation of Liability Act of 1851. The suit, if shown that Truth Aquatics was not liable for the accident, would limit Truth Aquatic's damages only to the value of the ship, thus preventing any damages to be issued against them by the families of the victims should they file suit. It would also reduce the length of time that these families would have to counter Truth Aquatic's claims. This practice is common in maritime accidents.[38] The settlements would be tied up in this limitation of liability proceeding.[39]
posted by cenoxo at 11:58 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


gCaptain Maritime News has a gCaptain Forum (FAQ) that hosts moderated discussions among professional mariners working on all types of ocean-going/coastal ships and vessels. Shoreside professionals and ship enthusiasts also participate. Reading is open to everyone, but forum registration is required to post and comment.

Their current discussion of the Conception accident is Multiple Casualties During Dive Boat Fire Near Santa Cruz Island.
posted by cenoxo at 11:38 AM on September 7 [2 favorites]


If the ship sinks, there is little or nothing to salvage. Why would a captain "go down with the ship?" That's just romantic nonsense.

Minor clarification. My wording was clumsy, and I can see why you're thinking I'm saying the Captain must legally go down with the ship, which I'm not.

We're talking about essentially the same thing about what abandoning ship means as an act in maritime law, salvage laws and incentives (which, yes, are a thing to incentivize rescue and recovery!)

I was just talking about the general concept about the actual origins of it, and that they historically have less to do with crew and safety of passengers but with protecting the sizeable investment of the ship itself and any cargo. The term or concept predates the use with Titanic and Victorian era passenger liner seafaring and has historical precedent that stems from some pretty stark and cruel economics.

This is why in that historical era of seafaring - often focused entirely on trading, not passengers at all - would find Captains trying to do everything they could and risking life and limb to the very last to try to save their ship, crew and cargo because the loss of that ship would be catastrophic, because it might be everything that the Captain has to work with in the world. Risking death to save that capital was not uncommon.

I was just trying to talk about why this was a thing and nerding out about the weirdness and origins of salvage laws, not trying to espouse romantic nonsense. Of course a Captain is allowed and also even obligated to abandon ship when there's no one left to rescue and nothing that can be done to save the ship.

The concept that "the captain goes down with the ship" as relating to sea and maritime law evolved into what it means to us today as relating to the actual (more recent) laws that they must look after passengers and crew first and to be the last to board the lifeboats.
posted by loquacious at 1:48 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]


This is why in that historical era of seafaring - often focused entirely on trading, not passengers at all - would find Captains trying to do everything they could and risking life and limb to the very last to try to save their ship, crew and cargo because the loss of that ship would be catastrophic, because it might be everything that the Captain has to work with in the world. Risking death to save that capital was not uncommon.

Yes, the "must go down with the ship" wasn't meant so literally as absolutely to the death, from what I know of it, and more that "sinking" is a process and abandoning a ship one believed was doomed only to have it not sink could be grounds for charges being raised against the captain. (That is if the sources I read about such things can be trusted.)
posted by gusottertrout at 2:04 PM on September 7


..................................
posted by AlSweigart at 4:50 PM on September 8


The people on the Conception are mourned by many, I can't add much beyond what has already been said. Having dived off Catalina, everyone who says that there is a magical world just under the surface is spot on, and I absolutely understand what these divers were chasing that made them willing to take a boat across the sea.

I hope the tragedy leads to better safety, especially since we live in California. As I understand it, boats with six or fewer passengers don't require inspections at all. (If anyone knows differently, please correct me.) That's shocking. You need a certificate of occupancy to open a food truck or a smoothie stand.
posted by wnissen at 9:45 AM on September 9


All commercial boats require inspection. Boats smaller than a 6-pack that aren't for hire don't require the Coast Guard inspections or a licensed captain. That's the pleasure craft category but there are safety laws and many states have some kind of operator training or licensing or age limit etc. It's not a free for all (that would be jet skis).

It's also incumbent upon boat passengers to check that the vessel has been inspected and that a valid USCG decal is displayed as it should be. And to attend and listen to the safety briefing and obey rules about passageways, watertight doors and gear stowage or no boat can be made and kept safe. Boats aren't hotels, they're more like spaceships really.
posted by fshgrl at 4:17 PM on September 9


It's also incumbent upon boat passengers to check that the vessel has been inspected

You can search for current Coast Guard vessel information at the public USCG PSIX Vessel Search Page. For example, enter/select the following info:
1. Vessel Name: Conception
2. Vessel Flag: UNITED STATES
3. Vessel Service: Passenger (inspected)
4. Click Search to see a brief “Search by:” table with additional data.
In this table’s first column, second row is the Vessel Name: Conception [a JavaScript link]. Click this link to see a new, large table with sections for Vessel Information, Particulars, Service Info, Tonnage, Documents and Certifications, and Summary of Coast Guard Contacts.

In the Summary of Coast Guard Contacts, click Click Here to see a new, long list of Coast Guard Contacts (aka “Incidents”) and Deficiencies (with Resolved status and dates). In the case of the Conception, documents were current and deficiencies were resolved before the accident.
posted by cenoxo at 8:34 PM on September 9


From the LA Times: Criminal probe launched with focus on safety lapses, sources say.
posted by Justinian at 3:04 PM on September 10


I can't believe they had no one on watch on a commercial boat. That's terrible.
posted by fshgrl at 4:06 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


If you can’t get past the LA Times paywall, the same story is also at gCaptain: Criminal Investigation Opened Into Fire Aboard California Dive Boat – Source, September 10, 2019.
posted by cenoxo at 6:54 AM on September 11


I can't believe they had no one on watch on a commercial boat. That's terrible.
It matters a lot if the company had a policy not to do anchor watches overnight or if the captain excused the crew from watch for this particular night or if someone was supposed to be on watch and fell asleep. We don't usually stand watch on small boats at anchor, but for a big passenger carrying boat, this is a serious breach of standard protocol.
posted by Lame_username at 1:11 PM on September 11


They were supposedly 20 yards off the beach with 35+ people on board in Platt's Harbor, which isn't a well protected anchorage. They absolutely should have had an anchor watch.

Recreational cruisers do sometimes anchor up there in good weather and sleep or go ashore but they're only risking themselves and their own boats.
posted by fshgrl at 1:32 PM on September 11


§ 185.410 Watchmen.
The owner, charterer, master, or managing operator of a vessel carrying overnight passengers shall have a suitable number of watchmen patrol throughout the vessel during the nighttime, whether or not the vessel is underway, to guard against, and give alarm in case of, a fire, man overboard, or other dangerous situation.

[CGD 85-080, 61 FR 1005, Jan. 10, 1996, as amended at 62 FR 51359, Sept. 30, 1997]
posted by cenoxo at 4:18 AM on September 12


NTSB Home > Investigations > Accident Investigations > Diving vessel CONCEPTION sunk after fire > Preliminary Report: Marine DCA19MM047 [also available as PDF]:
The information in this preliminary report is subject to change and may contain errors. It will be supplemented or corrected during the course of the investigation.
A new USCG Marine Safety Information Bulletin WRT to the Conception was released on September 10, 2019:
On September 2, 2019, the small passenger vessel CONCEPTION caught fire and sank off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, California with loss of life. A Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation (MBI) has been convened and will conduct a thorough and comprehensive marine casualty investigation to determine the causal factors that contributed to this tragic incident. The Coast Guard and the maritime industry do not have to delay until the MBI has completed their investigation before taking immediate and positive action.
The sunken hull of the Conception has also been raised.
posted by cenoxo at 10:47 PM on September 12


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