In one of the most horrific marine disasters in recent memory, the dive vessel Conception burst into flames in the early morning hours on Monday, September 1, 2019, claiming all 33 passengers and one crew member.  The boat was home-ported in Santa Barbara and was halfway through a three-day dive charter when it caught fire and subsequently sank.  As of Tuesday morning, emergency crews from the Coast Guard, Ventura County Police, Santa Barbara Fire Department and local volunteers found at least 25 bodies, leaving nine people still missing, the AP reported.

When the fire started, the boat was anchored close to shore off Santa Cruz Island.  It is believed that the passengers were asleep in their berths resting up for dives scheduled the following day.  Witness accounts indicate that five of the six crew were able to abandon ship and were pulled from the water by a fishing boat in the area.  The mayday call the captain placed was from the rescue vessel, not the Conception.  This reinforces the idea that the fire was more likely the result of an explosion requiring those persons above-decks to abandon ship immediately.

The vessel configuration had the crew berthing one deck above the passenger berthing area.  All 33 passengers were housed in a large space below the main deck.  It appears there was only one passageway for escape from the lower deck and none of the passengers were able to escape.  The sole escape route was a curved staircase that led up to the galley area above.  However, according to Bruce Rausch, 69, a frequent guest aboard the Conception and veteran of at least 12 dive trips, there was an additional escape hatch situated above one of the bunks and led to the salon deck, which included the galley.  That hatch is, “…on a ceiling of the bunk room or the floor of the galley” according to Rausch.  Witnesses reported hearing a number of explosions coming from the engulfed boat, but authorities say it’s too early to say what exactly caused the fire.  Reports noted that the cause of the explosions could have been scuba or propane tanks on the Conception.

On the afternoon of March 23, 2019, the Viking Cruise Line vessel VIKING SKY had the misfortune of losing power while in the middle of one of the roughest parts of the Norwegian Sea.  The double-whammy of stormy seas and a loss of propulsion caused the ship to ride in the trough of the heavy seas, resulting in damage to the vessel and causing injury to at least twenty passengers who required medical attention.

When the ship left port, nearly 1,400 passengers and crew were on board.  All were expecting a pleasant trip between two scenic Norwegian ports.  Instead, the vessel soon encountered a raging sea, with wave heights upwards of 25 feet.  Ordinarily, a ship like the VIKING SKY can handle such conditions with ease.  Instead, coincident with the huge seas, the ship lost power and was forced to issue a MAYDAY call for rescue.  The Norwegian Joint Rescue Coordination Centre for southern Norway put together a team of helicopters and tugs to assist the foundering ship.  By nightfall, nearly 500 passengers had been evacuated via helicopter.  The next day, the seas calmed enough for tugboats to make their way onto the scene and bring the vessel into Molde, Norway, the nearest port.  According to officials on the scene, the ship came within 100 meters of running aground.  Only by dropping anchor in shallow water did the crew prevent what could have been a major environmental disaster.

Although cruise lines represent one of the safest ways to vacation today, such voyages are not always guaranteed to please.  Rough seas, engine failures and groundings are just a few of the many things that can go wrong.  Anderson & Mitchell represents passengers and crew when such a cruise results in harms and losses.  If you are injured while on such a cruise, call Anderson & Mitchell.  We stand ready to help.

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