Dive Boat Tragedy Brings Alarm, Smoke Detector Recommendation

It often takes a tragedy to bring issues into focus. Last year, a devastating fire broke out aboard the passenger dive boat Conception off California’s Santa Cruz Island. The Conception was a passenger diving vessel chartering cruises for divers interested in exploring the Channel Islands. The fire resulted in 34 deaths; five crewmembers escaped with injuries. The fire was the deadliest marine accident in modern California history.

A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)  found that five crewmembers were asleep in the upper deck wheelhouse when the fire broke out, and there was no roving watch, as required by Coast Guard regulations.

Beyond those immediate contributing factors, the tragedy triggered a deeper review of the fire protection requirements for class Subchapter T vessels and other small boats under 100 gross tons that carry 150 or fewer passengers and/or have overnight accommodations for 48 or fewer passengers.

Often the vessel’s owner or crews will penetrate a fire boundary to run a small pipe or cable through a bulkhead to another compartment without maintaining the integrity of the fire zone. While apparently this was not the case with the Conception, the NTSB finding released recently recommended to the Coast Guard that all smoke detectors are interconnected between all fire zones. The relevant section of the NTSB report recommends that Title 46 Code of Federal Regulations Subchapter T and Subchapter K be amended to “require all vessels with overnight accommodations including vessels constructed prior to 1996, have interconnected smoke detectors, such that when one detector alarms, the remaining detectors also alarm.”

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This change will require penetrations of the fire boundaries, and undoubtedly there will be many “do-it-yourself” vessel owners/crew implementing this requirement.

A company called STI Marine has solutions. It makes a range of “firestopping” fire-resistant putties and sealants from STI Marine, as well as self-sealing systems for running cables through bulkheads. One is called Snap Seal Plug, allowing self-sealing plugs for cables to penetrate bulkheads while remaining compliant with all safety requirements.

Complete information and approvals can be found at