The Coast Guard has announced new safety rules after the deadly fire that killed dozens of people on a submarine off the coast of California more than two years ago.
The Labor Day 2019 fire that killed 34 people aboard the Conception off Santa Barbara marked the deadliest sea disaster in modern state history and led to criminal charges and calls for stricter regulations for small passenger ships.
Interim rules that will come into effect in the next two years will require boat owners, among other things, to install fire detection and extinguishing systems, provide better escapes and use onboard devices that ensure a night watchman is alert and make frequent rounds .
An investigation into the disaster blamed the Conception’s owners for a lack of supervision and the boat’s captain for failing to place a roving watchman on board the ship, allowing the fire to spread quickly and the 33 passengers and a crew member were trapped below deck. Captain Jerry
Boylan and four crew, all sleeping above deck, escaped.
Boylan pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of manslaughter by sailors. He is out on bail pending trial in the US District Court in Los Angeles.
The new rules were expected after Congress ordered the Coast Guard to review its regulations for small passenger ships in December 2020. The law, incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act, also added new requirements related to fire detection and control.
The National Transportation Safety Board, in its investigation, recommended that the Coast Guard require boat owners to install more elaborate smoke alarm systems, upgrade the state of emergency and conduct mandatory inspection checks on roving watches.
Since 1991, no owner, operator, or charterer has been subpoenaed or fined for failing to deploy a roving patrol, prompting the NTSB to blame the Coast Guard for failing to comply with this requirement and recommend that it develop a program to ensure that boats with overnight passengers actually have watchmen.
The rules go into effect on March 28 and are subject to change after a public comment period ending in June. They do not apply to ferries or fishing boats.
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