The dive boat where 34 people died was exempted from safety rules designed to make it easier for passengers to escape according to a recent report from the Los Angeles times. The Conception was just one of over 300 small passenger vessels given the special exemptions from federal safety upgrades. The passenger safety upgrades included larger escape hatches and illuminated exit signs among others.
Current rules require vessels to have an escape hatch 32 inches wide along with illuminated exit signs. Since the Conception was built in 1981 it had a hatch that was only 24 inches wide with no illuminated sign according to several federal investigators who requested anonymity in order to speak on the matter. The investigators went on to say its unclear if such measures would have made a difference.
Investigators immediately zeroed in on the functionality of the two escape hatch exits and were “taken aback” by their small size. Safety Board Investigator Jennifer Homeday added she thought it would be difficult for passengers to exit during an emergency in the dark. In the aftermath the Coast Guard has stepped up inspections of several boats across the country. Several boat owners have said that among the issues raised is the size of the escape hatches, fire protection systems and crew training in emergency.
The safety exemptions the Conception and other boats received in the 1990’s are raising new questions. It’s been reported the Coast Guard often ignored NTSB Safety recommendations to improve fire safety measures for nearly 20 years. Congress Member Julia Brownley said “I am deeply concerned about the fire and sinking of the Conception and the so-called grandfathering of boats under older boat safety regulations.” As attorneys who help victims due to negligence behavior we share Congressperson Brownley’s concerns.
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