A preliminary investigation into the California boat fire that killed 34 people off Santa Cruz island on Monday has revealed serious safety flaws aboard the vessel and raised questions about whether crew members and passengers were properly trained on safety protocol. The Los Angeles Times reported the Conception also lacked a “roaming night watchman” who would stay awake to alert passengers in the event of a fire or other dangers, according to several law enforcement sources. Investigators have interviewed the surviving crew members who told authorities the fire was too intense to save any of the passengers trapped below. “What’s emerging from the interviews is a harrowing story of the last few minutes before the boat was engulfed in flames,” Jennifer Homendy, who is overseeing the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation, said. “They felt that they had done what they could do in a very panicked situation.”
Authorities have not suggested the fire was the result of any criminal wrongdoing, although the report says L.A. prosecutors are preparing to assist investigators. On Thursday evening, the owners of the California diving boat company, Truth Aquatics Inc., filed a petition asking a judge to eliminate their financial liability. The lawsuit claims that under 19th-century maritime law, they should not have to pay the families of victims if they decide to sue.