The Conception, on which 34 people died in a Labor Day fire off the Santa Barbara coast, was among more than 100 California boats exempted from strict U.S. Coast Guard rules adopted more than two decades ago to improve passenger safety during emergencies, according to a Times data analysis.
U.S. Coast Guard records show that 11 boats classified solely for diving — including eight in California — were given special exemptions from the 1996 safety standards, which were prompted by a series of fires and other accidents that had killed dozens in the previous 30 years. The grandfathering provision meant those boats didn’t have to make changes such as adding larger escape hatches and enhanced fire prevention systems.
An examination of boating records shows that 322 small passenger vessels nationwide built before 1996 are exempted from those rules. One-third of them are based in California.
The Coast Guard’s oversight has come under scrutiny after the Conception disaster, in which 33 divers and one crew member were trapped below deck and died while on a three-day excursion around the Channel Islands.
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