Conception Dive Boat Captain Charges Dismissed

Charges were dismissed by a Federal Judge because prosecutors had not charged Gross Negligence. While the Captain may bear some responsibility for this whole tragedy he CERTAINLY wasn’t the major cause of it becoming the disaster it is. The party responsible for approving this vessel and its use as constructed bears a bigger responsibility. The party responsible for manning this vessel and approving the manning requirements bears a bigger responsibility. We see it all the time that the Captain is supposedly responsible but then manning standards are reduced, maintenance is differed, and standards are not upheld. The Captain does not control any of that. My questions are, who would approve of a boat having below sleeping arrangements for 30 some people without a fire monitoring and extinguishing system installed, adequate escape routes to exit VERY QUICKLY, and fire resistant materials used in the construction. As constructed: Fire Drills for the 6 man crew would have done what to fight this blaze, a fire drill for the 34 sleepers would have allowed them to egress in how long as “trained” vs. “untrained”, and roving patrols once an hour, half hour or even 15 minutes would have accomplished what when the fire took how long to become out of control? Yes, maybe the Captain was negligent but felony criminally so, because given the circumstances of the fire would all of this have happened anyway. I personally believe there are others who should be considered to be GROSSLY NEGLIGENT and of greater culpability before the Captain should be charged with essentially murder.

4 Likes

If you don’t believe the Captain personally responsible to ensure the roving watch required by law was carried out and who was first to jump off the vessel isn’t grossly negligent, then no one else could possibly meet that standard since the people you would prefer be on trial weren’t even on board and acting in line with established practice.

You have no ability to determine what “could” have happened with an alert watchstander posted as required but it would be folly to think that early detection, early opportunity for intervention would “CERTAINLY” have zero effect on reducing the deaths in this preventable tragedy.

3 Likes

They can still re-file charges under gross negligence. There is also a good chance the US attorney will prevail on appeal as the Judge’s ruling appears to be a unique interpretation of seaman’s manslaughter. All prior precedence has held that negligence was sufficient. The statute seems pretty clear on this point:
Every captain, engineer, pilot, or other person employed on any steamboat or vessel, by whose misconduct, negligence, or inattention to his duties on such vessel the life of any person is destroyed…

1 Like

As usual Sal Mercogliano is all over it and has some good commentary.

Is there any other type of federal or state manslaughter charge that does not have at least a gross negligence requirement?

As I recall from reading a news report: the judge ruled that neither of two similar federal manslaughter statutes under sections 1112 and 1115 expressly say what level of negligence must be proven to convict. Yet, the courts have consistently ruled that section 1112 requires gross negligence, but section 1115 requires mere ordinary negligence.

Is this poorly drafted 1851 steamboat era statute that was designed to solve a very different type of problem in a very different era constitutional?

The statute treats defendants that have allegedly committed very similar crimes very differently.

While most of us may think that the Captain should have done this and that. The Captain simply did what had always worked well for him on this vessel, and in the entire fleet of similar vessels for many years.

While the USCG was clearly negligent in inspecting these inadequately built vessels, and allowing their operation with insufficient crew.

1 Like

I agree with you there. The owner/operators of the vessel are at fault as well…however, it’s still ultimately the captain’s burden to bear. Someone coffee drunk half asleep in the galley binge watching Netflix could have at least saved more lives, if not all of them.

Other than more financial security with benefits, a HUGE reason I left these ‘party’ boats/charter boats years ago was the liability factor. Yeah by design these kind of boats have lots of safety issues. I figured that one out, and unfortunately like most other things, changes will be made in a reactive way as opposed to proactive. It’s also a somewhat less professional maritime culture. That needs to change too. More required training for ALL crew regardless of position or billet. I feel the captain didn’t know any better, and that can be blamed on the vessel owner and whomever trained him when he was coming up.

1 Like

With all due respect (I really mean that), please proof-read before posting… Not doing so makes it hard to read, and detracts from the excellent points you are raising.

Question is did they kill enough people to get a change in regulations?

3 Likes

That doesn’t seem to have much credibility either. Review the Motts vs Green Wave debacle to see how much the CG cares about lives lost due to gross negligence. That incident will remain a blot on the CG forever.

I believe you have missed my point, I did not say the Captain was not culpable but that there are others and other issues which are of a greater fault. You make a point about the Watch and having an ALERT ROVING WATCH. That may have helped, maybe would have saved all, but my point is with 6 people in the total crew for 33 divers and having been busy all day and how long into the evening, how alert will that watch person be at 0230, how many rounds will they make and how often? We experience it all the time in the Maritime industry that things do not change until disaster strikes. NO EXPERT on human functioning would ever say that working 6 on, 6 off for longer than a day or two is any good for any activity but we still do it throughout the industry. And it not just us, how many Navy accidents are a result of people working ungodly hours and then expecting the watch to be sharp. How do you fight a growing fire with 6 people who were just awakened? Fire detectors and fire suppressant systems would have significantly helped. How do you get 34 people out of an enclosed area rapidly and why was there NOT TWO well marked and easily navigated stairways, not ladders through a small hatch. You are right we cannot tell what could have happened had the Captain done everything right and that means that given the other issues beyond and above his failures we have no assurance that all or any could have been saved. The problem was that 34 people were sleeping in an enclosed space and little thought was spent to determine the hazards or solutions beyond requiring a roving watch or a drill and making the potential problem the Captain’s to solve. The same fate could have befallen them had the boat been an anchor and been run into causing catastrophic flooding.

1 Like

Sounds like i exactly got your point and quoted you appropriately when i responded. Your follow on comments would seem to confirm it.

Then maybe stop shaking your head ruefully as you continue to go to work everyday and start calling the authorities instead of waiting for the disasters? Just a suggestion. Tacit, and not so tacit, acceptance shows agreement with the condition and diminishment of the risks you somehow think the USCG should gather and remedy without hearing from you during their one visit a year. It rings hollow to hear after all those years of accepting the situation someone suddenly says “I CANT BELIEVE YOU LET US OPERATE LIKE THIS COAST GUARD!” in the wake of tragedy complaining it was plainly evident that this was a disaster in the making after the fact. It also is kinda telling on yourself unless you have a stack of letters to USCG about your concerns over observed dangerous conditions perhaps?

Also, the USCG themselves really can’t change things until disaster strikes, indeed that’s the only time they can make changes as Congress has written for them to do. They will soon enough go back to being the industry’s whipping post once memories of how one Master’s misconduct and negligence changed how everyone who didn’t screw up have to work under more stringent requirements and potentially tougher enforcement not to mention less trust. Further enhancements they will want to make to safety will be challenged as unnecessary impediments that have never been a problem before and it will take disasters to make the point (again).

The professionals should be more pissed at this Master for letting down the side rather than any mixture of sympathy with a side of indignation at agencies who can’t be there all the time and rely on the professional cadres fully discharging their duties and responsibilities, which includes alerting the agency to hazardous conditions that the owner can’t satisfactorily address through their own responsibility.

This has been discussed on several threads on here. There are links to a couple in this thread.

I agree with you; blaming the office or the CG after the fact is easy. I commented on this in the old thread. I ran dive boats years ago and the training I got from other captains did not include appointing night watches at anchor. When I designated watches I was challenged by the crew. When they complained that they never had been called to do so before, I explained that it was a CG regulation in place for the safety of the vessel and all onboard. They didn’t like it but I stood my ground and included myself in the rotation at first to show I was serious.
I expect they called me a hard ass behind my back but I had enough life experience to consider it a no brainer regardless of CG regs or how “they were used to doing it.”

5 Likes

What if one of the other boats, the ones with no night watch had caught fire? If the purpose of the system is to find a person who is legally responsible than it’s simple, it’d be the captain.

But if the purpose is to avoid preventable death than the fact the other boats have no night watch is a problem. A problem that evidently, captains don’t in fact, solve.

Yes, if the other boats operating in the same service with overnight passengers do not set the required watch that is a problem. If you are suggesting the reliance on Captains and crew to perform what is required can be ineffective, especially if its ignored? No duh. But no one wants to pay for the perfectly engineered fail safe passenger boat that removes human behavior from the equation, preferring instead trade offs—The set of laws and regulations, the “system” designed to prevent deaths (and other negative outcomes) while balancing cost, practicality etc… generated through a deliberative process of law making and adjusting as necessary and/or feasible.

Which means of course this is a necessary area of investigation and consideration to determine who is “legally responsible”. The Captain sets the required watch, but say the roving watch blows him off and doesnt conduct rounds or goes to sleep without his knowledge, the Captain is relieved in part of total responsibility. It will be examined how much he did to ensure the crew performed their duties as sure if it was a sleeping lookout. Ideally, this supports a system of disincentives for failure to perform required duties even to jail time and even in the absence of accountability, awareness on the parts of the others with the same responsibilities to stand their own taut watch.

1 Like

How many people die each day in US from:

Boating
Diving
Shipping
Motorcycles
Cars
Cancer
Shootings
Overdoses
Medical mistakes
Heart disease
Smoking
Covid

About 400 people a day die in the US from Covid, yet most people, and our politicos, seem to believe that is an acceptable loss rate compared to the inconvenience and cost of taking covid precautions.

Are there enough deaths per day from dive boat trips to make it worth doubling the cost of the trips by requiring better vessels that are operated more safely?

1 Like

In practice, who else is going to solve it? Tired from an earlier birthday party, both crew and passengers are exhausted after a long day crossing the channel. After watching a colorful sunset and a downing a cocktail or two, the passengers start going below for the night.
The Channel Islands are known for unpredictable weather but this night is forecast to be calm. It’s not like the CG is looking over your shoulder. The office people are all tucked away. You’re a nice guy, the crew loves you, the divers love you and you’re just as tired as they are. Hell, everybody says you’re the best captain in the fleet and the tips they hand over at the end of your trips prove it. Kind of gives you a warm cozy feeling and you can hardly keep your eyes open. Why not call it a night and give everyone the night off?
Because “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”
There’s no provision on your license that allows you to bend the rules based on how tired you are. As #Ctony says, even a half asleep watch might have changed the outcome.
If lack of sleep due to short manning is the issue, address it with management. If they blow you off, have the conviction to walk away.

1 Like

One of the many reasons I walked away years ago…but to the topic on hand, they had a ‘second ticket’ on board. the mate, and most likely held at least a 100 grt license. Where I come from, they usually are the night guy. When I was one, i’d be the one doing most of the watch time in the bridge while transiting, and if we were anchored. I had the roving duty while picking up the loose ends the rest of the crew couldn’t get to during the day. They had plenty of crew. A big question is their utilization.

On these kind of boats as you know no one is getting a set watch, and everyone is working more than 12 hours if not closer to 18 hours per day.

Where’s that guy from Cato Institute?

He’d solve the problem: just get rid of the pesky, overpaid American crew that pay high California taxes, and replace them with twice as many $9 a day third world villagers that pay no taxes. Now there is plenty of affordable , well rested crew to provide the roving watch and make the dive trip customers safer.

Yes, I am a sarcastic guy. And no, I’m not serious.

2 Likes

That’s a key issue. There’s a cost/benefit factor to the general public to consider before calling for more regulations on the dive boat industry.

1 Like