Deadliest maritime disaster in modern California history prompts new rules


LOS ANGELES – The Coast Guard has announced several new safety rules in the wake of the deadly blaze that sent dozens of people on a scuba diving boat to an aquatic grave off the coast of California ago more than two years.

The 2019 Labor Day fire that killed 34 people aboard the Conception off the coast of Santa Barbara marked the deadliest maritime disaster in modern state history and led to criminal charges and calls for stricter regulations for small passenger vessels.

Five members of the same Stockton family died in the blaze. Michael Quitasol, a retired teacher from Stagg High School; sisters Evanmichel Solano Quitasol, who worked at St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Nicole Quitasol and Angela Rose Quitasol, seventh grade science teacher at Sierra Middle School; and Michael Quitasol’s wife, Fernisa Sison, a registered nurse.

“They got taken in and they had so much work they could have done, so much kindness to give,” Stockton’s mother Susana Solano Rosas said as her extended family mourned in 2019.

“They lit up the room. It’s true, all these clichés. They lit the room as they entered. They were the spotlight. They enlightened everyone.

“They touched so many lives”: Hundreds of people gather for the funeral of the Quitasol family

Under interim rules that will come into effect over the next two years, boat owners will be required, among other things, to install fire detection and extinguishing systems, provide better evacuations and use devices on board that ensure that a night watchman is alert and makes frequent rounds.

An investigation into the disaster blamed the owners of the Conception for a lack of surveillance and the boat’s captain for failing to post a roving watchman aboard the ship, which allowed the blaze to spread quickly and trap the people. 33 passengers and a crew member below deck. Captain Jerry Boylan and four crew members, all of whom were sleeping on the deck, escaped.

Boylan has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of manslaughter of a sailor. He is out on bail pending trial in US District Court in Los Angeles.

The new rules were expected after Congress in December 2020 asked the Coast Guard to review its regulations for small passenger vessels. The law, included in the National Defense Authorization Act, also added new requirements regarding the detection and suppression of fires.

Following: Captain of tug Ventura honored by Coast Guard for “altruistic” response to Conception fire

The National Transportation Safety Board recommended in its investigation that the Coast Guard require boat owners to install more comprehensive smoke detection systems, upgrade existing emergencies, and perform mandatory inspection checks on traveling watches. .

Since 1991, no owner, operator or charterer has received a citation or fine for failing to dispatch a roving patrol, prompting the NTSB to blame the Coast Guard for failing to enforce this requirement and to recommend that he develop a program to ensure that boats with overnight passengers have watchmen.

The rules published late last month in the Federal Register begin to take effect on March 28 and could be changed after a public comment period that ends in June.

They do not apply to ferries or fishing boats.

Conception dive boat casualties: Know their names, learn their stories

Other requirements include better crew training, evacuation drills for passengers, and advice on how to handle flammable items such as rechargeable batteries.

While investigators said they could not determine the cause of the fire because the boat burned and sank, they say the fire started towards the rear of the main deck saloon – where divers plugged in phones, flashlights and other items with combustible lithium-ion batteries.

After the fire, the Coast Guard issued a bulletin recommending a limit on unattended on-board use of lithium-ion batteries and heavy use of power strips and extension cords.

In 2020, the United States Coast Guard awarded a Ventura tugboat captain one of its highest civilian accolades for his heroism when responding to the deadly fire at the Conception dive boat.

Paul Amaral, owner of Channel Watch Marine, received the Coast Guard’s Meritorious Public Service Award in a surprise ceremony in June 2020.

At around 3 a.m. on September 2, 2019, Amaral ran from his Ventura home to the Port of Ventura after hearing reports of the design in flames near Santa Cruz Island. As he approached the scene on his tug, he could see the glow of the flames.

Amaral towed the Shallow Water Design close to the Deep Water Boulders, where fire boats could help contain the blaze. In a press release on Amaral’s response, the Coast Guard said its swift actions increased the safety and effectiveness of rescue and recovery operations.

“I had been involved in injuries and fatalities on the water before, but never had one of this magnitude. It was really shocking, the effect it had on me. It’s a bit difficult, ”Amaral said.

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