California boat company suspends tours after fatal fire that killed 34

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (KABC) -- The owner of the scuba diving boat that caught fire off the Ventura County coast, killing 34 people, has suspended operations of the other boats in its fleet.

Truth Aquatics says it has continued to receive inquiries about tours involving the company's other boats. But the company said it wants to focus on making any necessary improvements to those other vessels as the investigation into the cause continues.

"With the continued calls and request for tours, we want to announce that we are officially suspending all operations of our Truth Aquatic fleet for a to-be-determined amount of time. We apologize to our customers who have been seeking reservations as well as those with reservations - and truly appreciate the expressions of support," the company wrote in a Facebook post.

"Right now we feel it's important (to) dedicate our entire efforts to make our boats models of new regulations that we will continue to work on with the NTSB and Coast Guard."

The Conception caught fire on Labor Day, killing 33 passengers and one crew member. Five crew members were able to escape the flames and survive.

Investigators say all six crew members were asleep when the fire started. Coast Guard regulations require a crew member to be on watch.

Federal investigators have not been able to determine the cause, but Truth Aquatics has come under intense scrutiny.

The company says it will work with the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board to make sure their boat models meet new regulations.

There is no indication anyone intentionally set the Sept. 2 fire.

Still, authorities are conducting criminal and safety investigations into the fatal fire. While NTSB Member Jennifer Homendy has expressed concern about the Conception's escape hatch, Coast Guard records show the boat passed its two most recent inspections.

Others in the dive industry have generally praised the company's reputation for maintaining its fleet.

Truth Aquatics preemptively filed a federal lawsuit under a pre-Civil War maritime law that shields boat owners from monetary damages in a disaster at sea.
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