Officials hesitant to label investigation as “criminal”
Exactly a week after 34 people died on the dive boat Conception, rumors continue to swirl about what investigators are looking for, particularly after search warrants were executed on Sunday, as well as the presence of both the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The warrants were served at Truth Aquatics’ headquarters on Cabrillo Boulevard, as well as at both of the company’s remaining vessels, Truth and Vision.
With a flurry of reports surfacing Monday morning that there was a criminal probe underway, both the FBI and ATF both were non-committal when talking with the News-Press.
“No criminal charges have been filed,” said FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller.
“Charges are one thing,” said ATF spokesperson Ginger Colbrun, “investigation’s another thing. The evidence is going to determine whether there’s a charge.”
A source close to the investigation indicated that receiving confirmation of a criminal investigation is like “looking for a leprechaun” — for a multitude of reasons.
First, once the word is out that a probe is a criminal investigation, the public’s perception of the defendant may be altered. This perception, however, would be based on an investigation that have not yet finished.
And this particular investigation is still very much in its infancy, as the vessel itself has been underwater since Labor Day, with the extraction still delayed by high winds near Santa Cruz Island.
A pair of media reports on Monday indicated that investigators obtained documents on Sunday that focused on the lack of a “roaming night watchman” and the potential inadequacy of passenger safety preparation and crew training.
Ms. Eimiller, when asked about these documents, declined to comment, saying that they were obtained on a sealed warrant.
When asked about the probable cause that spurred the granting of the search warrant, the United States Attorney’s Office LA spokesperson Thom Mrozek echoed Ms. Eimiller, “The warrant is under seal.”
The search-warranted investigation at Truth Aquatics and the boats took place Monday as well, according to Ms. Eimiller.
And, who is leading this investigation team?
“The Coast Guard Investigative Service is leading,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Lt. Erik Raney.
Lt. Raney told the News-Press that the department is shadowing the now four-agency team. According to Lt. Raney, the Sheriff’s Department is running a concurrent operation to provide a local and state perspective when the evidence is reviewed.
The Coast Guard Investigative Service is a branch of the U.S. Coast Guard, investigating cases where it holds an interest. While the Conception was “in full compliance” according to U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester, the outfit has continued to aid in not only the extraction, but also with the other investigating agencies.
Capt. Rochester explained during a press conference hours after the Conception engulfed in flames that the diving boat — which underwent an annual inspection with other similar vessels as part of U.S. Coast Guard regulations — was consistently in good standing.
The process of recovering Conception was expected to restart today, although weather conditions could impact that.
The Sheriff’s Office had indicated that it would likely be early this week that 11 more names would be released, while an initial report from the NTSB is expected by the end of the week.