The Coast Guard has issued a safety bulletin following the California boat fire that killed 34 people, recommending commercial boat operators limit unsupervised charging of cellphones and other electronic devices.
A brief, preliminary report on the Labor Day fire that destroyed the dive ship Conception near Santa Cruz Island was issued Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board, but did not address the cause of the fire. The report did note that three crew members said they knew of no mechanical or electrical issues with the boat.
The Coast Guard said it has convened a Marine Board of Investigation to determine the cause of the blaze. But the bulletin noted that it does not have to await the board’s findings before taking “immediate and positive” action.
“In some instances, our marine casualty boards identify pressing safety issues related to vessel stability, the engine room or lifesaving and firefighting equipment,” said Capt. Jason Neubauer, chair of the Marine Board of Investigation. “In those instances, we issue safety alerts or bulletins.”
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The recommendations included ensuring that all required firefighting and safety equipment is on the boat and operational, that emergency escapes are clearly recognizable and functional and that crew members understand their roles.
Boat operators also should “reduce potential fire hazards and consider limiting the unsupervised charging of lithium-ion batteries and extensive use of power strips and extension cords,” the bulletin said.
The batteries, found in millions of electronic devices around the world, charge and discharge by moving lithium particles between a negative and positive electrode. The particles are suspended in pressurized cells inside the batteries – filled with volatile, flammable chemicals. Incidents of rechargeable battery fires, however, are extremely rare.
“The intensity of the fire surprised people,” Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, told USA TODAY. “If it was being fed by lithium batteries, that might explain it.”