Coast Guard

Deadly SoCal Boat Fire Likely to Prompt Safety Changes: Expert

There are many questions about what led to the fatal fire on a dive boat off the Santa Barbara coast.

But while the Coast Guard says the Conception passed its last safety inspection, some experts say the rules might not be stringent enough.

Paul Kamen, a forensic naval architect in Berkeley, says the case exposes a serious gap in safety requirements. Kamen said it appears the people who died didn’t really have a chance to escape.

"It’s easy to imagine how much they wished they could get out of the hull and into the water," Kamen said.

Kamen has been studying the layout of the boat and poring through all the interviews. He says while the Conception appeared to have the required two escape exits, both exits led to the same galley.

"The problem is both escape routes went through the same compartment," he said. "Once the galley dining area was engulfed in flames, there was no way out."

Former Bay Area resident Julie Frans is heartbroken. She worked as a cook on the boat from 2001 to 2003.

"I don’t think anybody in their wildest dreams would think this could happen this way," Frans said. "Safety on these boats is first and foremost. Everyone on those boats knows the safety protocols."

Frans says she’s certain the fire broke out so fast, there was nothing the crew could have done to save the divers. She worked for the very same captain.

"There are no words to describe the integrity and ethics and responsibility of this man," she said. "You could take thousands of captains, and none could stand up to Jerry."

The Coast Guard said the vessel was required to be inspected annually by the agency, and it has been in compliance with all federal regulations.

Kamen, however, is certain the tragedy will lead to changes, especially when it comes to the emergency exits.

"There are other ways to do it, to have two means of escape that are completely independent of their route," he said.

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