Troubled Waters is a marine incident podcast created by our partners, Tug and Barge Solutions, to help bring awareness to the importance of marine safety. In their podcast, Erin and Erica take a deep dive into marine incidents, talking about what happened, what caused them, and what can be learned from them to help prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
Episode 8: MV Conception
In this episode of the Troubled Waters podcast, Erin and Erica go over the series of events leading up to a fatal fire onboard the MV Conception on September 2nd, 2019, and how this event is still shaping regulations in the passenger vessel industry.
The MV Conception was a 75 foot dive boat built in Long Beach, California and launched in 1981. In 2019, it was owned by Truth Aquatics, a company that operates charter excursions from Santa Barbra harbor for groups of divers interested in exploring the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California.
Over the Labor Day weekend in 2019, the MV Conception was under charter by Worldwide Diving Adventures for a three day diving excursion. During the first evening, the passengers went for a night dive, and when they returned they stored their flashlights, cameras, and photo strobes, on two tables in the salon, many of which were plugged in to charge along side several cell phones and tablets. Later that evening, the first galley hand saw sparks at the receptacle when he plugged his phone in, but never reported it until after the incident occurred.
At 1:30 a.m., the second galley hand woke to do dishes and then returned to his bunk. He was awoken again at 2:35 a.m. by a noise he believed was a disoriented passenger, but instead found an uncontrollable fire on the main deck, blocking both the ladder and escape hatch for the lower deck where 34 people—33 passengers and one crew member—were trapped. After waking the four remaining crew members on the upper deck, the crew attempted to access the fire stations onboard, but all were inaccessible due to flames and heavy smoke. At 3:14 a.m., after placing two mayday calls, the Captain jumped overboard and was followed by the remaining crew. From the water they retrieved the skiff at the back of the boat and paddled 200 yards to the only boat moored nearby where they made another radio call and awaited the arrival of the USCG.
In the end, none of the 34 people trapped on the lower deck survived the incident. This tragic event has led to several questions regarding safety training, smoke detectors, electrical outlets, and adequate escape routes, and continues to shape the regulations being created for the passenger vessel industry today.