A criminal investigation has been opened into the fire that broke out onboard the Conception boat in Southern California on Sept. 2, killing 34 people, The Los Angeles Times reports. Federal authorities from the U.S. Coast Guard’s criminal investigative group are reportedly looking at whether the company that owned the Conception, Truth Aquatics Inc., violated maritime safety regulations despite the fact that the boat passed its two most recent inspections, according to Coast Guard records. If investigators find evidence that the company was non-compliant, prosecutors will then have to determine whether those violations equate to criminal negligence.
Truth Aquatics has already filed a lawsuit under a pre-Civil War provision of maritime law, also used by owners of the Titanic, that asserts the company is not liable for damages because the boat was deemed seaworthy. Last year, federal prosecutors in Missouri brought criminal charges against a duck boat captain and two others in relation to a capsize where 17 passengers died by relying on a federal law known as “seaman’s manslaughter.” The prosecutors have claimed that the captain failed to gauge the weather conditions, and operated the boat inappropriately.