Victims of the Conception dive boat fire (L-R): Evanmichael Solano, Angela Rose Quitasol, Michael Quitasol, Fernisa Sison, Nicole Storm Quitasol. Christina Quitasol, far right, was not aboard the boat.

The Labor Day tragedy becomes one of California’s worst maritime disasters

AFTER the tragic Labor Day fire on the diving vessel Conception that claimed 34 victims, a joint investigation conducted by federal and state authorities has gone underway, a law enforcement source said on Monday, Sept. 9.

Initial reporting from the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press said that the Dept. of Justice; the Coast Guard; the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office are leading the investivation. The criminal probe follows a search of the company that owns the 75-foot vessel, Truth Aquatics, on Sunday, September 8.

“No criminal charges have been filed at this time,” a source close to the investigation told Reuters on Monday.

According to the Times, the investigation will center around the possible safety measures that could have either prevented the fire or mitigated the scope of the tragedy.

Early reports of the investigation found that among those safety deficiencies included the lack of a “roaming night watchman,” which is required in the event of any dangers while at sea.

Authorities have suggested that smoke inhalation was “likely” the cause of death for the 34 victims. The Santa Barbara Coroner’s Office decided to forgo the traditional autopsies and instead ordered DNA analysis to identify the bodies.

On Monday, September 2, the boat was anchored about 20 yards away from Santa Cruz Island caught fire at around 3:15 a.m., according to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. Including the ship’s crew, there were 39 people on board at the time of the fire.

Emergency services responded to the scene quickly with firefighters battling the blaze as the ship sank 64 feet, officials reported.

Five crew members of the Conception were able to escape the destruction by jumping overboard after which a nearby boat rescued them; one of the escapees suffered a broken leg.

But the tragedy claimed the lives of 34 people in what is now considered one of the worst maritime disasters in California history

As previously reported in the Asian Journal, Filipino American Michael Quitasol, 63, was on the boat with his wife Fernisa Sison, 57, and Quitasol’s three daughters from a previous marriage: Evanmichel, 37; Nicole, 31 and Angela Rose, 28. The family of five had been celebrating Quitasol’s 63rd birthday on the boat.

As the massive investigation continues to progress, the FBI is seeking help from anyone who may have information. Those who may have information are urged to call (800) CALL-FBI. (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)

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