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Truth Aquatics, Santa Barbara Boat Owner, Suspends Operations Following Fire That Killed 34

SANTA BARBARA (CBSLA) – The owner of the dive boat which caught fire and sank last month off the Santa Barbara coastline, killing 34 people, is suspending operations.

Santa Barbara-based Truth Aquatics announced in a Facebook post Tuesday that it is suspending all operations for an unknown amount of time.

Conception dive boat fire Santa Barbara
The burned out wreckage of the"Conception" on Sept. 12, 2019, at Port Hueneme, Calif. The dive boat caught fire off the Santa Barbara coastline on Sept. 2 and sank, killing 34 people aboard. (CBS2)

"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."

Truth Aquatics also said it is working with the National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard on their investigations into what caused the blaze.

"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 statement read.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 2, a blaze broke out aboard the 75-foot charter boat "Conception" as it was anchored about 20 yards of Santa Cruz Island and 22 miles southwest of Santa Barbara.

A total of 39 people were aboard, included six crew members and 33 passengers. Five crew members survived. The sixth crew member and all 33 passengers perished.

34 Missing In Charter Boat Fire Off Ventura County Coast; Officials Confirm Fatalities
This photo shows the burned out charter dive boat "Conception" just before it sank off Santa Cruz Island, near the coast of Ventura County. Sept. 2, 2019. (Credit: Ventura County Fire Department)

According to a preliminary report from the NTSB, all six crew members aboard the boat were asleep when the blaze broke out. Five of them were sleeping in the wheelhouse on the uppermost sun deck, and the sixth was asleep below in the lower hull's bunkroom with the passengers. The NTSB said the five crew members in the wheelhouse jumped overboard and survived. The sixth crew member and the passengers asleep below in their bunks were trapped and died.

Last week, The Associated Press reported that teams from the FBI and ATF have so far been unable to determine a cause for the fire after examining the wreckage, which was raised and brought to Port Hueneme in Ventura County. The NTSB is conducting its own probe, which is expected to take several months.

Conception was built in Long Beach and first launched in 1981. According to Truth Aquatics' website, Conception has a maximum capacity of 46 people. The charter was booked by a group called Worldwide Diving Adventures. Truth Aquatics has been running charters since 1974.

There was a multi-agency raid on Truth Aquatics' offices in Santa Barbara a few days after the blaze.

In response to the deadly fire, the U.S. Coast Guard issued new emergency safety requirements for boaters. They include recommending that boaters limit the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and the use of power strips and extension cords.

The Coast Guard, FBI, ATF and U.S. Attorney's Office are conducting a criminal investigation into the blaze.  The Coast Guard has also convened a formal Marine Board of Investigation to determine the cause of the fire.

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