Criminal Defense in Ventura County
Will the California Boat Fire Lead to Criminal Charges?

Will the California Boat Fire Lead to Criminal Charges?

On September 2, 2019, a fire broke out on the vessel called “the “Conception” directly off Santa Cruz Island in Santa Barbara County, killing 34 people on board. Only five crew members survived the tragedy.

A week later, the FBI announced they will work together with the Coast Guard to determine whether a crime occurred in connection to the boat fire. A day before the announcement was made, authorities served search warrants to Truth Aquatics, the company that owned the scuba diving boat.

But what charge would the scuba diving company face?

According to the Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute, any captain, engineer, or crewmember of a vessel can face a maximum 10-year prison sentence if their negligence, misconduct, or inattention to their duties onboard leads to another person’s death. The law also applies to boat owners and operators whose abandonment of duties results in any deaths.

Rather than proving someone’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the statute only requires proving negligence or misconduct—similar to a civil lawsuit. This law was created in the 19th century to reduce steamboat accidents that led to thousands of deaths.

This law has recently been used in the 2003 accident involving the deaths of 11 people on a Staten Island ferry, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, and the 2018 duck boat accident that killed 17 people in Missouri.

Investigators must look for any evidence of safety concerns such as crewmember training for emergencies, passenger safety instructions, and if a night watchman was on duty when the fire erupted.

According to several law enforcement agencies, the Conception didn’t have a roaming night watchman to alert passengers of any emergencies.

All five surviving crew members said the fire was too intense to save the sleeping passengers below deck.

If you have been charged with a crime in Ventura County, contact Wilfert Law P.C. today at (805) 994-0560.

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