Early NTSB report expected in fatal California boat fire

National

This photo from video provided by KABC-TV shows divers resuming their search for the final missing victim who perished in a boat fire off the Southern California coast Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019. The victim is one of 34 who died at sea last week near Santa Cruz Island when the dive boat Conception burned and sank on Sept. 2. Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Lt. Erik Raney says salvage efforts to recover the Conception also resumed Wednesday. (KABC-TV via AP)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Additional safety recommendations issued in the aftermath of a fatal boat fire off the Southern California coast that killed 34 people include limiting the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and the use of power strips and extension cords, the Coast Guard said.

The recommendations come as investigators delving into the cause of the Sept. 2 fire and try to recover the Conception amid an ongoing criminal probe conducted by the FBI, Coast Guard and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.

Divers on Wednesday recovered the remains of the last victim — one of dozens who died of smoke inhalation as they were trapped below a raging fire. Authorities have said 21 women and 13 men ranging from 16 to 62 years old appear to have died from smoke inhalation.

Officials expect to release the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report Thursday, spokesman Eric Weiss said.

While it’s not yet clear what the report will address, NTSB member Jennifer Homendy has said investigators are looking at several factors, including how batteries and electronics were stored and charged. They will also look into how the crew was trained and what crew members were doing at the time of the fire.

The boat’s design will also come under scrutiny, particularly whether a bunkroom escape hatch was adequate.

The recommendations from the Coast Guard — which has convened a formal Marine Board of Investigation — also suggest owners and operators of vessels review emergency duties with the crew, identify emergency escapes, check all firefighting and lifesaving equipment onboard, and look at the condition of passenger accommodation spaces for “unsafe practices or other hazardous arrangements.”

Coast Guard records show the Conception passed its two most recent inspections with no safety violations. Previous customers said the company that owns the vessel, Truth Aquatics, and the captains of its three boats, were very safety conscious.

James Hall, a former NTSB chairman, told The Associated Press a preliminary report is generally a summary of the early findings that relies on interviews, inspection documents and other records and a review of current maritime rules and regulations.

A preliminary report would likely not address the fire’s cause, he said. The agency may issue urgent safety recommendations — it does not have the authority to make binding regulations — between the preliminary and final reports, which could take more than a year to complete.

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