Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Ventura, announced Friday that the Small Passenger Vessel Safety Act was included in the final version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act.
The provision would require new safety measures for small passenger vessels following the Conception boat fire near Santa Cruz Island last year that left 34 people dead.
“My thoughts continue to be with those who lost a loved one in the Conception boat fire. It was a preventable tragedy and, as legislators, we knew we needed to act right away to prevent future loss of life. I was honored to be selected as a conferee for the final NDAA, where I was able to fight for the inclusion of long overdue safety reforms to small passenger vessels like the Conception,” Rep. Carbajal said in a statement. “Nothing can ever make up for the loss we experienced that day, but I’m proud to honor the memory of the 34 lives lost by working to make sure a similar tragedy never happens again. I look forward to seeing this crucial bill signed into law.”
Added Sen. Feinstein, “The Conception boat fire should never have resulted in such a devastating tragedy. It could have been prevented with just a few simple safety measures in place.”
The bill requires boats like the Conception to have no less than two means of escape to different parts of the vessel. In addition, it mandates safety standards for the handling and storage of phones, cameras and other electronic devices with lithium ion batteries. The bill also establishes stricter standards for interconnected fire alarm systems and requires monitoring devices to ensure the wakefullness of the required night watch, officials said.
The Conception caught fire in the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2019. A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report found that smoke alarms on the vessel only sounded locally and were not interconnected throughout the vessel, so the crew above decks weren’t alerted. Following the boat fire, the Coast Guard issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin urging that operators limit the unsupervised charging of lithium ion batteries and the use of extension cords to reduce potential fire hazards. Many of the passengers are believed to have died from smoke inhalation in the bunkroom because flames were blocking an emergency exit.
Earlier this week, the boat captain, 67-year-old Jerry Nehl Boylan, of Santa Barbara, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter. The indictment alleges he, as the captain and master of the vessel, “was responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew and its passengers,” read a statement released by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Federal prosecutors informed Mr. Boylan’s attorneys of the indictment after it was filed. Authorities said he is expected to self-surrender to federal authorities “in the coming weeks.”