BOATING DISASTER CLAIMS MORE THAN TWO DOZEN LIVES
Maritime safety rarely makes the headlines or day-time TV discussion panels given all that goes on in our world in a given week.
Florida is blessed with the longest coastline in the contiguous United States, approximately 1,350 miles (2,170 km), not including the contribution of the many barrier islands. This abundance of coastline and navigable waterways makes Florida the number one state for boating in the United States.
Recreational boating — including adventure boating and scuba diving trips — is increasing in popularity as more and more people use modern technology to explore our nation’s waters. Data recently released by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) shows that boating and related industries are on the rise. Industry experts anticipate long-term, continued growth.
Safety is not always a top priority though in an industry where profits continue to soar.
Sadly, a horrific boating disaster claiming dozens of lives just occurred in California, another top boating state.
Emergency crews found at least 25 bodies after a fire broke out before dawn off Santa Cruz Island on Monday, leaving nine people still missing, the Associated Press reported. Officials said late Monday night that crews had been recovering bodies, but that an exact count would not be released until reviewed by the Santa Barbara County coroner’s office.
After burning, the boat sank in about 65 feet of water, its bow exposed above the water. Authorities have recovered four bodies — two men and two women — and four others have been located on the ocean floor near the wreck.
“Fire is the scourge of any ship,” Brown said. “To be in a remote location, have a fire that occurs and have limited, if any, firefighting capabilities, and then have, all of a sudden, a fire that spread very, very rapidly — you couldn’t ask for a worse situation.”
Five of the six-person crew who were above deck on the bridge managed to escape in an inflatable boat. The Coast Guard declined to confirm the figures as authorities launched an investigation into one of the area’s worst maritime disasters.
In a recording of a desperate call to the Coast Guard, a man is heard gasping for help in the smoky fire.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday!” he said.
“That’s a distress, this is the Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles on channel 1-6, what is your position … and number of persons on board? Over,” the dispatcher answered.
“Twenty-nine. Twenty-nine POB,” said the man in the somewhat inaudible call. “I can’t breathe!… Twenty-nine POB.”
The dispatcher at least twice more requested the GPS location of the vessel but the caller apparently fails to respond. The boat sank later in the morning and was lying upside down under more than 60 feet (18 meters) of water, police said.
Officials said there were a total of 33 passengers and six crew members onboard the Conception, a 75-foot (23 m) boat, when the fire started at about 3:15 a.m. on Monday. Witnesses reported hearing a number of explosions, but authorities said it was too early to say what caused the fire. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said on Monday scuba or propane tanks on the boat may have blown up in the flames.
The federal National Transportation Safety Board said it had sent a team of engineers and fire specialists to investigate the blaze. The diving vessel was chartered by Worldwide Diving Adventures, a Santa Barbara, California, excursion firm. It said on its website the Conception was on a three-day excursion to the Channel Islands and was due back in Santa Barbara at 5 p.m. on Monday.
The boat’s owner, Truth Aquatics, referred queries about the accident to a joint media center. “This is still an ongoing search and rescue,” it said.
Attorney Todd Lochner of the Lochner Law firm in Annapolis, Maryland, who specializes in boating law, said that ships’ crews face limited legal responsibilities to rescue passengers.
“There is no obligation to stand on the vessel and burn to death,” Lochner said. “That’s a romantic idea, perhaps of the days of old, that the captain has to go down with the ship.”
Since 1976 The Matassini Law Firm has been protecting you and your family in the toughest of times. Contact maritime injury lawyers Nicholas G. Matassini and Nicholas M. Matassini, both AV Rated by Martindale-Hubbell, about your boating injury claim. www.matassinilaw.com.