Conception tragedy exposing flaw in boat safety regulations, says local forensic naval architect

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- By all accounts, Conception, the 72-ft dive boat that burned and sank off the coast of Santa Barbara killing at least 34 people, met all safety regulations. In particular, it had two emergency exits.

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"There's a very long standing standard that has the force of law that any vessel of this size that any space on the boat accessible to passengers has to have two separate escape routes," says Paul Kamen, a Berkeley-based forensic naval architect.

Kamen is referring to federal regulations that dictate the "Means of Escape" for vessels like Conception. Kamen believes those regulations will face new scrutiny for this reason.

"Both the escape routes led to the same compartment. I would expect to see a re-evaluation of how this requirement for two escape routes is interpreted, they really shouldn't have to pass through the same compartment because then you essentially only have one escape route."

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Kamen says he doesn't believe crowding was the issue, that 30 people sleeping on a live-aboard dive boat is common. The only problem-- that those divers seemed to have no way out.

Looking at schematics of the passenger bunker, Kamen points out that an exit that led to the top deck, instead of the galley, would've better served the divers.

"Leaving this space, getting into the engine room space and either going up to the deck or further back, through the dive platform, would've been a much more useful escape route than what they had available to them," said Kamen.

Kamen added that vessels like Conception are very safe, governed by good regulations that have been developed over centuries.

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"This is so rare, an accident of this scale is going to make everybody stop and see how we're interpreting the statutes that are on the books," he said.
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