AFP, published on Tuesday 03 September 2019 at 00h43
At least four people died Monday morning in the violent fire of a tourist boat off the coast of California, and the chances of survival of thirty other passengers, still untraceable twelve hours after the tragedy, were increasingly thin.
The boat, a 22-meter-long vessel set up for diving trips, sank as firefighters tried to extinguish the fire early in the morning, the coastguard said.
Calcined to the waterline, the "Conception" now lies about 20 meters deep, just 20 m from the coast of Santa Cruz Island, off Santa Barbara, its home port .
Only part of his bow protrudes from the surface, specify the coastguard.
According to US media, four dead bodies were found near the wreckage by relief.
Thirty other passengers, who were probably sleeping at the time of the tragedy, remained missing on Monday afternoon.
Rescuers have deployed a large device, with divers and helicopters, to rake the coast in search of possible survivors but authorities fear that the missing have remained prisoners of the flames.
– The ship in good standing –
A press conference was announced for 16H00 local (2300 GMT) by the sheriff of Santa Barbara County, where the local Red Cross has also established a "reunification center" for families affected by the disaster.
A total of 39 people were on board but five of them, the crew members, were able to leave the boat on their own and were picked up by a pleasure boat not far away, Monica said. Rochester, Coast Guard Captain, at a news conference in Oxnard, California.
At the moment the fire broke out, "the crew was awake and present on deck, they jumped overboard," she explained, unable to say whether they had tried to rescue passengers.
The emergency call received by the rescue came from the "Conception", she said, stating that "the ship was perfectly in order".
The US media broadcast an excerpt of the SOS radioed by a crew member. "I can not breathe," the sailor desperately asks his Coast Guard interlocutor. The latter asks him if the passengers can go out and if the crew has fire extinguishers to fight the flames, but the answers are inaudible.
Without being able to access the ship, the relief workers were not able to give an accurate assessment but said they expected many victims.
– "Intense fire" –
"It's a big boat and we know we have many dead, I do not have an exact number," said Bill Nash, a spokesman for Ventura County in the early hours.
"I do not have information about any survivors at this stage," said Coast Guard officer Aaron Bemis.
"The five crew members were able to leave because they were in the main cabin," he told CNN. The passengers "were under the bridge and according to the information we have, they were trapped by the fire."
"The fire was so intense that even after it was extinguished, we could not go on board and (…) go in search of survivors," he added.
According to Mr. Bemis, the fire broke out around 3:15 am (10:15 GMT) and the rescuers were notified by radio about fifteen minutes later.
Relief operations were complicated by a thick fog that hovered over the area on Monday at dawn.
No hypothesis was available at this stage on the cause of the fire.According to the website of its shipowner Truth Aquatics, the "Conception" left Santa Barbara on Saturday at dawn for an excursion dedicated to scuba diving in the neighboring islands, an extremely touristic area.
He was to return to his home port Monday late afternoon, holiday in the United States.
The boat had anchored, presumably to spend the night, north of Santa Cruz, a steep island that is part of the Channel Islands National Park, at a creek called Platts Harbor.