Conception Dive Boat Captain Charges Dismissed

I remember getting very little sleep. As much fun as life is on a dive boat was, I remember that the lack of sleep was delibitating and I would sleep for a couple of days straight when getting home after a 2 week hitch.

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This has been discussed at length here. One boat captain out of compliance is a problem with that one captain. The entire sector being out of compliance is a regulatory issue.

The dive boat sector was treating regulatory risk the same as operational risk. The problem with an informal approach based on experience will overweigh such things as dive accidents and under weigh low probability-high consequence events such as a bad boat fire.

Regulatory agencies actions are going to draw on a much larger database of incidents than the experience of individual captains or companies.

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At the risk of beating a dead horse, there were two problematic issues with that dive boat. In the construction department, the location and design of the passenger quarters with an outdated electrical power supply above their heads.
Correcting the first is going to require some heavy lifting while the second can be corrected by means of adding to the workload. In simple fashion, by requiring them to keep recorded and signed watch records.
Next problem: pencil whipping. Where does it end?

Well, my horse beating arm was a little stiff at first from last time but it’s loosened up a bit now.

I think your observations are correct, two issues, one difficult to correct, the other is going to require a little paperwork which nobody likes.

As far as pencil whipping and when does it end…that’s a matter of diminishing returns. For starters an inspector could simply ask the captain if the rounds are being made and see what the answer is. Next, ask for any documentation; a poster on the bridge bulkhead, some written instructions, a signed night order sheet and so forth.

Problem 1:

The USCG inspected and certificate a vessel that was poorly built with inappropriate materials (apparently fire retardant resin not used) and inadequate egress.

Problem 2:

The USCG specified an insufficient number of crew on the certificate of inspection. (This is a very common problem).

When the USCG specifies an inadequate crew and the owner says more crew are not required by the USCG, what is a boat captain to do? Admit that everyone is working over 12 hours? Document that everyone is working over 12 hours?

The USCG knows that the number of crew specified on the certificate is inadequate and that everyone is working over 12 hours.

If the USCG doesn’t take its regulatory duties seriously, how can anyone expect the Captain to do anymore than they best that he can within the limits of the number crew required on the certificate.

If you want to hold this dive boat csptain responsible, fine, but do so after the USCG inspectors and MSO and the owners have been held responsible.

The reality is that the Captain had no control over this situation. He was left with a simple choice: run the boat as is, best he could within the constraints imposed on him, or get a new job at Walmart.


How? They don’t set the dive schedules and the moves that keep the crews working over 16 hours a day and there is no record to check.

That’s what I did. It’s a minor inconvenience for the office to replace a captain and I shipped out 48 hours later after calling the hall. Nothing to see here folks, keep it moving.


Well, the USCG sure didn’t build it! At worst they might not have detected something that could contribute to spread of fire, but the owner had responsibility to use the right materials and set a watch to detect, intervene and warn passengers that the Master wantonly ignored.

From the NTSB: “During the investigation, NTSB staff visited other dive boats operating from Southern California ports and harbors and spoke with their owner/operators. During informal discussions, all owners/operators stated that night watches were assigned whenever passengers were aboard, but the procedures for the watches varied greatly. On some of the vessels, crewmembers assigned to the watch spent a majority of their time in a single location—either the wheelhouse or the salon—which does not appear to meet the intent of the regulation.“

Sounds like a company and Captain problem that was unique onboard, or the industry will definitely lie about it to the authorities, and people claiming the USCG should have known blow whistles too late and only when convenient.

“[The Captain] placed two distress calls to the U.S. Coast Guard at 3:14 a.m., then “was the first to jump in the water; he did not lower himself onto the main deck, but instead jumped directly from the wheelhouse,” according to prosecutors’ opposition to the dismissal motion. “There is no evidence that defendant ever attempted to grab the fire ax or fire extinguisher in the wheelhouse or otherwise attempt to fight the fire before abandoning ship. Nor did defendant use the Conception’s PA system to alert the passengers about the fire.”

No, I think we should hold this person responsible first, then the owners, and then any USCG inspectors who failed to recognize non-fire retardant resin (used by someone not USCG) because they left their non-fire retardant resin detectors in the car the day the owner presented the vessel for inspection and any licensed officer required to point out such deficiency failed to do so.

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Why didn’t they talk to the crew? Or ask for any documentation? Several forum members with actual experience on dive boats commented here on past threads about this. The consensus was the practice in the dive boat sector was no night watch.

@Lee_Shore has said on this thread that he tried to run the boat by the book based on his experience and judgement and the job was not doable.

Everyone here understands that the captain is ultimately responsible for the safety of the boat, crew and passengers. However in actual practice the job itself forces the by-the-book types to find work elsewhere while the captains willing to live with the situation stay.

What about the inadequate escape route which lead to the same space as the main route? Or the $9.99 Walmart fire detector?

These issues and many other came up on other threads and were discussed at length.

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I was an exception. AFAIK all 3 or so captains I trained with had come up the ranks as divers and these were the only vessels they had sailed on. They do things the way it’s been passed on to them. It’s the nature of the business so it would require a culture change to turn things around.
Much of the mom and pop fishing industry operates the same way.


Why do you think they would acknowledge they aren’t following the rules or give any different answer than the owner operators? You can NTSB why they didn’t ask but they probably didnt bother pulling that thread too far because the ultimate recommendation was always going to be there was inadequate controls to ensure proper watches were set. Which is a nice way of saying “you can’t trust these officers and crew and owners”, but I think the quiet concealment of failure to perform what was clearly required is the more galling defect than the trusting nature of the regulator and limits of regulations at the time.

I recall the threads. But you haven’t pointed out anything illegal that the USCG could have, should have shut down clearly against the regulations. Judgment calls made by inspectors years before the fire and arrangements not uncommon across small passenger vessels are not easily undone later especially when confronting an owner to change something that has always been that way and being assured that “plus our required roving watch will ensure early detection and alarm”.

Because of my actual experience from many audits and inspections of the crew being asked questions and them giving honest answers.

I respect what you believe in saying so, and your experience suggests a different industry “big ship” much more regulated including self-regulating enviroment than small operators of small passenger vessels or similar. So I’ll simply say—my experience says otherwise.

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Yes, a lot of deep-sea experience also smaller vessels, tugs and so forth including some time on a 100 ton passenger vessel.

The design required plan approval by a USCG technical office and verification by the local CG Inspector that the vessel is built to the plans. There’s no statute of limitations on that. If a Class Society had done that, there’d be calls for tarring and feathering (and worse). Why should it be different when it’s the USCG?

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That’s not accurate, the local office, especially at the time of build would only require local office review and approval.

This, from the NTSB report discusses the practice of review for repairs. The construction, especially at time of build in 1996 falls along the same principle:

“ Most reviews are handled locally at the Coast Guard sector or detachment level. If the repair or alteration is deemed “major” by the Officer in Charge, Marine Inspection (OCMI) at the sector, then the plan review is elevated to the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Center in Washington, D.C. At the Marine Safety Center, professional engineers, naval architects, and/or subject matter experts conduct the plan review and issue recommendations, interpretations, or guidance to the respective OCMI.”

The NTSB report provides well documented discussion of the regulations applicable at the time of the accident. The vessel arrangements were largely compliant, hence the numerous recommendations to make more stringent regulations. It was largely compliant, save for the human operations.

I was speaking to the original plan review. Since the USCG Marine Safety Center did not exist at the time of construction in 1981, plan reviews would have been done at a local technical office.
An accommodation area with two means of escape that weren’t independent may be technically correct, but operationally it was a failure waiting to happen.

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You should definitely mention that in the open comment period of proposed New T regulations back in 1994-6.

And there is much, much larger operational failure at fault compared to this construction arrangement.


I’ll just hop in my Delorean and head back to 1994-6 to do that. There’s way more than enough failures in this incident to go around.