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LOS ANGELES – Crew members of a Southern California dive boat told investigators they were not trained on emergency procedures before a fire broke out last year and killed 34 people, according to federal documents released Wednesday.

Investigators say the cause of the predawn blaze aboard the Conception remains undetermined but a possible ignition point was phones and other electronics plugged into outlets.

One crew member, Ryan Sims, told investigators he saw sparks flash when he plugged in his cellphone hours before the fire.

The boat was carrying 33 passengers on a Labor Day weekend scuba diving expedition last year and was anchored near an island off the Southern California coast. The fire broke out while passengers were sleeping and quickly swept through the vessel.

All of the passengers and one crew member sleeping below deck were killed. The other five crew members, including Capt. Jerry Boylan, survived. They barely escaped after trying in vain to save the others, authorities said. Boylan made a mayday call at 3:14 a.m. saying, “I can’t breathe,” before abandoning ship.

Boylan could face federal manslaughter counts, and recent court documents say criminal charges are imminent.

Hundreds of pages of documents released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board provide a detailed look at the boat’s final hours on Sept. 2, 2019.

Sims, who had only been working aboard the boat for three weeks, told investigators he had asked the captain to discuss emergency plans the day before the fire. Boylan reportedly told him: “When we have time.”

“I didn’t know what the procedures were supposed to be,” Sims said.

Other crew members also said they were not familiar with safety procedures.

Sims said he went to sleep after seeing the sparks, and there is no indication in the documents that he reported what he saw.

Sims broke his leg trying to escape the burning boat and sued the vessel’s owner and the company that chartered it, alleging that the Conception wasn't seaworthy and operated in an unsafe manner.

The NTSB said all six crew members were asleep when the fire broke out, a violation of Coast Guard regulations that require a roving watch.


Krisher reported from Detroit.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Coronavirus outbreak on cruise ship sailing in Greece

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek authorities say 12 crew members of a Maltese-flagged cruise ship on a Greek island tour with more than 1,500 people on board have tested positive to the coronavirus and have been isolated on board.

The Mein Schiff 6, operated by TUI Cruises, began its trip in Heraklion on the southern Greek island of Crete on Sunday night, with 922 passengers and 666 crew members on board, Greece’s Shipping Ministry said Monday. It had been due to sail to Piraeus, the country’s main port near the Greek capital, Athens, and later to the western island of Corfu.

Sample tests for the coronavirus were carried out on 150 of the crewmembers, the ministry said, and 12 of them were found to be positive. The passengers had undergone coronavirus tests before boarding and were not part of the sample testing.

Those who tested positive for COVID-19 had been isolated on board, and the cruise ship was headed to Piraeus.

Greek health authorities said the ship was expected to arrive on Tuesday, and a National Public Health Organization team would be on hand to re-test the 12 positive cases, as well as anyone else deemed necessary by the ship’s crew and on-board doctor. The health authority said all 12 of those who had tested positive were asymptomatic and with a “low viral load.”

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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