Investigating the Fire on the Diving Vessel Conception

In the early morning hours of September 2, 2019 off the California coast, fire broke out on-board the 75-foot chartered scuba diving vessel Conception.  The fire ultimately killed 33 passengers and one of the crew members.  CED Technologies has extensive expertise related to marine and fire accidents.  CED is often asked for insight into what we would investigate to determine what could have caused or contributed to the disaster.

 

First and foremost, we would need to inspect the vessel.  Conception has been raised by the United States Coast Guard and she is currently being moved to a naval facility where experts will be reviewing the hull, power, fuel, electrical and other systems.  The hull and its systems will help investigators determine potential causation, or at least create areas to review.  So, what would CED do if involved with this investigation?  Prior to inspecting the actual vessel, CED experts would take a step back and undertake a research effort to try to understand the vessel prior to the incident.  CED experts would attempt to find the answers to the following questions:

 

  1. Design & Manufacturing

Configuration of vessel:

Original manufacturing plans for vessel
Photos of vessel
Was the vessel originally configured with berths?
Who designed and installed the berths?
When was the vessel last inspected by USCG?
How were the emergency exits intended to work?
Who designed the emergency exits?
What sensors were on the vessel for smoke, carbon monoxide, heat, etc.?
What was the air distribution system design?
Did the vessel have any fire protection systems in the:

bilge
engine room and/or mechanical rooms
galley
common spaces
berthing areas

Fuel system: location, capacity, distribution systems.

 

  1. Electrical & Fire Suppression Systems

Electrical system and/or status of circuit protection breakers (closed, open, tripped, etc.)
Fire suppression system for vessel

central control and alarms

Fire suppression for cooking equipment in galley

hoods, vents, exhaust fans
fire extinguishers: portable and fixed

 

  1. Maintenance and Repairs to the Vessel

Maintenance and service records
Appliance installations
Firefighting equipment maintenance records

 

  1. Operating and Safety Protocols

Operating Protocols – Ship’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

watch responsibilities
underway duties
crew firefighting procedures

Was a pre-departure safety briefing conducted?
Was a safety/fire drill conducted?
Were passengers instructed on the use of the exits?
Were abandon ship stations assigned and reviewed?
What was the level of crew firefighting training?

 

  1. Timeline and Witness Statements:

Event timeline leading up to incident- events throughout day, 24 hours prior
Incident timeline – progression of fire/explosion
First awareness: record of transmissions requesting assistance
Firefighting attempts
Rescue attempts
First responder(s) statements.

 

Once CED experts have assembled the answers to these questions, they would then be ready to inspect the vessel to look for any similarities or patterns to help determine causation.  Forensic engineering involves more than just inspecting the scene of an accident.  People often assume that experts are able to arrive on a scene and instantly determine what happened, or what was a contributor – but determining causation is much more than one initial inspection.  It is approaching accidents and failures using a multi-faceted methodology, gathering data, analyzing, and understanding procedures and safety measures.  Meticulous research prepares the engineering team with their best options to determine what actually occurred.  We certainly hope that this is case with Conception, so that such catastrophes can be prevented in the future.

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