Officials Investigate the Cause of Tragic California Ship Fire

Over Labor Day weekend, the state of California saw one of the deadliest maritime incidents in the state’s history. A group of several dozen people was killed as they sailed on the Conception, a ship which was carrying the group on a sightseeing tour of the Channel Islands. On the morning of Monday, September 2 a fire suddenly broke out aboard the ship. After all was said and done over 30 passengers were either confirmed killed or remain missing, while 5 crew members were able to evacuate from the vessel and survive. 

The Los Angeles Times reports that in the investigation following the tragedy, authorities have learned that when the fire broke out aboard the ship all of the crew members were asleep, in violation of a federal regulation that requires charter vessels like the Conception to have a night watchman. The NTSB and U.S. Coast Guard say that the purpose of the night watchman is to monitor the ship and its equipment throughout the night and detect any dangers as early as possible. 

When the crew members finally did awaken and realize that the ship was on fire, they also realized that the only way for passengers to escape from the area in which they slept was to go directly through the blaze, the L.A. Times reports. 34 passengers died, mostly from smoke inhalation experts believe. 

79-year-old Stanley Payne, whose sister-in-law died aboard the Conception, summed up the feelings of many of the victim’s families, telling the L.A. Times “We suspected that all along …That’s a major breach of security…. If it’s possible, the captain at least ought to be held responsible.”

On Thursday, officials lifted the remains of the Conception from the sea floor. Their next step is to study the burnt-out hull for clues as to what caused the fire to start, and why it spread so quickly through the ship.