Families Suing Santa Barbara Diving Boat Owner Over Fire

Multiple Fatalities In Boat Fire Near Santa Cruz Island

Four families who lost relatives were among 34 people killed during a fire on a diving boat early Labor Day morning have sued the vessel's owners, alleging they failed in their obligation to have a roving watch as required by the Coast Guard, insufficient fire suppression and detection as well as an inadequate means of escape.

According to the lawsuit filed in federal court on Monday, the diving boat Conception, owned by Truth Aquatics, was "unseaworthy" and that the captain had failed in his duty to properly implement watch policies and procedures that are designed to catch emergencies like the fire, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board found that there was no one on watch at the time the fire broke out aboard the diving vessel that led to all 34 people who were sleeping below deck to perish. The captain and four other crew members who'd been sleeping above deck managed to escape the fire. Lawyer Bob Mongeluzzi says Monday's filing is an attempt to challenge the boat company's effort to exempt itself from any liability.

"All of the crew was asleep at the time this fire broke out," Mongeluzzi said. "That is a violation of federal law."

The boat's owners have cited an old law that could limit the company's liability and payouts to victim's families. In a petition in federal court, attorneys for Truth Aquatics are citing a steamship maritime law, the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, that would reduce the company's financial liability for the blaze or lower it to an amount equal to the post-fire value of the boat - $0.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the owner and the captain's conduct invalidate the law. They have also called for the captain of the Conception to be charged with manslaughter.

Photo: Getty Images

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