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Fire on dive boat Conception in CA

Discussion in 'Accidents and Incidents' started by divezonescuba, Sep 2, 2019.

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  1. DavidFL

    DavidFL ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Orlando, FL
    One of the many problems with being an old guy is that some things, like this casualty, are unfathomable to me. I was at Annapolis in the late 60s; I'm sure the example at the time was some fourth class Midshipman falling asleep on a 'mate of the deck' (of Bancroft Hall) watch. But the late 60s were close enough to WWII;, Viet Nam was at full throttle; one of my professors had served on Admiral Nimitz staff; the lesson was hammered home to impressionable 18 year olds: falling asleep on watch (or sentry duty) is a pretty big offense: The Punishment for Falling Asleep at One’s Post | In Custodia Legis: Law Librarians of Congress

    If there is any tiny glimmer of optimism in this dark place and time, it may be that this very dive boat casualty may become the quoted lesson for generations of new crewmembers.

    And having said all that I don't know how to apply it to a situation where the watch was required but all the potential watchstanders were asleep in their bunks.
  2. Snoweman

    Snoweman Loggerhead Turtle

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: Atlanta, GA
  3. Bob DBF

    Bob DBF Solo Diver

    # of Dives: I just don't log dives
    Location: NorCal
    One can't apply the problem of a sleeping watch stander to the situation where the operation of the vessel is so poor that the captain allows this behavior. It is incomprehensible to me. This action is not an individual shortcoming, but a breakdown of command responsibility top to bottom. To do this, it had the standard operating procedure and include everyone, as if this behavior was known by anyone in the maritime industry none of them would work in it ever again, even without the loss of life or ship.

    If these are the facts, I can see a criminal prosecution in their future.

    And that's an opinion from a raghat submariner of the same era.

  4. markmud

    markmud Self Reliant Diver--On All Dives. ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: South Lebanon, Ohio
    Play that one again Bob,
    I can't rewrite your post and get the intention any better than you just did.
  5. chillyinCanada

    chillyinCanada Solo Diver Staff Member


    A ScubaBoard Staff Message...

    Establish what caused the accident and then what can be done to assist in avoidance.

    No blaming.

    Please go up thread and reread the Staff notes.

    Thank you.
    DBPacific and DebbyDiver like this.
  6. Ken Kurtis

    Ken Kurtis Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: Beverly Hills, CA
    Couple of things:
    1. I see four scenarios where this watchstander could have fallen asleep and each one IMHO carries a different moral & legal weight:
    A. Watchstander is doing duty but is exhausted (remember they usually work a day shift as well onb dive boats - maybe that's part of the problem), sit down to rest in the wheelhouse and dozes off unintentionally.
    B. Watchstander has been ordered to stand watch by captain and after all others are asleep says screw this and deliberately abandons duty and goes to bed.
    C. Captain assigns watchstander duty as paper trail only and watchstander goes to sleep with captain's full knowledge and approval.
    D. Same scenario as C but Conception owner is well aware of this practice and does not object so it's SOP for the boat.

    We don't know which of these four applies in this case. We should also remember that there's still testimony - this doesn't excuse the sleeping - of a crew member going through the galley around 2:35AM and all is well. At 3:14AM everything's on fire. 39 minutes. Not that the boat's very big but you could have been on watch, gone down into the engine room (accessed through a sliding horizontal door in the middle of the dive deck - and which apparently wasn't initially on fire) to do some stuff and come up half an hour later to make another watch sweep only to find a raging inferno.

    And finally to the captain's responsibilities . . .

    Supposes the scenario is A or even B. How is the captain supposed to police this? The only way IMHO is for the captain to stay up all night watching the watchstander. If that's the case, besides saying that that standard of care now has to be that the captain gets no sleep at all (and ignoring the safety issues that creates) if the captain needs to watch the watchstander, why not just have the captain be the watchstander?

    Point is there's no perfect system and if the captain has given an order that isn't followed, what else could he possibly have done?

    I was involved (defense expert) in a famous case (Drifting Dan) years ago where one of the allegations was that the captain is always responsible for anything/everything that happens or doesn't happen on the boat. In depo, I challenged that notion and said prove it. Show us the CFR. No one did. Our attorneys did not want to make an issue of it at trial (big mistake IMHO) but the bottom line is - and I'm happy to have someone here show me I'm wrong - no one was able to locate anything in the CFRs that specifically assigns the captain all blame for all things. (The extreme example was that a fight breaks out in the galley and one passengers pick sup a knife and murders another passenger. Does the captain also go on trial for murder because if he's responsible for everything, he should. Same thought applies to if it's a crew member doing the murdering. Where do you draw the line here?)

    - Ken
    markmud, drrich2, Esprise Me and 3 others like this.
  7. Dirty Mac

    Dirty Mac Angel Fish

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Northeast U.S.
    Determine the cause, sure of course. But that determination once reached will not alter the fact (if it is a fact) that no one was on watch. I mean....it's a federal law and a centuries old tradition of the sea. The only thing that could make a darn bit of difference is if the NTSB report is wrong and there was an awake watchman.
    markmud and DebbyDiver like this.
  8. Ken Kurtis

    Ken Kurtis Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: Beverly Hills, CA
    Riffing off of this, the key questions:
    1. How did the fire start?
    2. How/why did it spread?

    The issue with the watchstander adds a third question of: What, if anything could have been done to detect/stop/slow the spread of the fire? In that same vein, had it been detected early - even if it couldn't have been stopped - what could have been done to alert and evacuate some or all of the passengers from belowdecks? Does design of stairway and hatch play into any of this? Does location opf and access to fightfighting equipment play into any of this?

    But the two key questions that need to be addressed are #1 and #2.

    - Ken
  9. Ken Kurtis

    Ken Kurtis Manta Ray

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: Beverly Hills, CA
  10. vlxjim

    vlxjim Angel Fish


    This could be, But years back me and a group of friends (15) chartered a 65" boat. What a disaster that was. Two the bunks couldn't be used due to hydraulic fluid from the steering lines leaking all over them. One of the diesels was leaking oil so bad that the crew actually used a 1 gallon milk carton with the top cut off to scoop the oil out of the bilge and pour it back into the engine. (I kid you not) During the night while we were at anchor my friend had gotten seasick (I believe part of it was do to how strong the diesel fuel smell was in the bunk room). So I hung out with him in the dining/ salon area watching movies. It was about 2:30 am that we got a strong smell of marijuana. We walk up to the bridge to find the captain and one of the crew smoking weed. The next morning no crew is around. The galley didn't open untill 9:30 am. So now are all getting ready. All of a sudden a large black oil slick is being produced from the starboard side bilge port. We hear the captain's voice on the PA stating please hold on this is not not a good spot and we're going to move to a better one. Fast forward we're on our way back to port in the dark and again we smell marijuana. Crew members were running up to take hits from the Captain. At one point heading into the breakwater the boat was on the wrong side of the navigational buoys and needed to make an aggressive maneuver to avoid hitting another boat.
    Next day I contacted the charter company and was advised to talk to the owner. So after no luck leaving multiple messages over a week the owner never contacted me. I once again contacted the charter company who informed me that they had spoken to the owner and the owner had heard my messages and was informed on what happened. The fact that he did not call me back the charter company advised me to contact the harbormaster. The harbormaster strongly advise me to contact the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard told me that these were serious charges and that an investigation would need to be open. They interviewed everyone on the passengers list as well as the Captain and crew. They drug tested the Captain and crew. In the end the Captain lost his license. Action was taken against the owner for the unsafe conditions that existed on the boat. The owner was fined and the operation of the vessel was suspended until all violations were corrected. The thing here is that one of the violations was not having a crew member on watch. The crewman that we witnessed on watch was disqualified by the Coast Guard as someone on watch due to the use of drugs and the Coast Guard's zero tolerance rule.
    Weeks later the owner calls me yelling and screaming at me telling me that I've ruined the life of a career captain. That he was going to sue me for the loss of business. I told him to go ahead give it a try that it was his fault that it escalated to this point. A simple phone call in the beginning could've stopped this from happening.
    A follow up call from the Coast Guard investigator thanking me for being proactive in the situation and possibly preventing something worse from happening was nice to hear. I explained to him that the owner called me and our conversation. The investigator told me that I did the right thing and with the violations that they have discovered the owner didn't stand a chance in court. And if it was ever to go to court to give him a call and I would receive the full backing of the United States Coast Guard.
    Sorry it was long.
    flyingfish26, JohnN, markmud and 19 others like this.
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