California scuba boat fire death toll rises to 25

Rescuers were scrambling Monday to reach more than 30 people who were sleeping below deck when their scuba-diving boat caught fire off the California coast, with reports of “numerous fatalities.”
Image: Mike ELIASON / Santa Barbara County Fire Department / AFP

Divers have found a total of 25 bodies on Monday after a pre-dawn fire sank a scuba diving vessel off a Southern California Island, leaving nine people unaccounted for as the search continued, media reported.

Representatives for the Coast Guard’s division in Los Angeles and the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office could not immediately be reached to confirm the report from the Associated Press, which cited the US Coast Guard.

The Santa Barbara sheriff had earlier confirmed eight people had died after a fire broke out aboard the Conception, a 75-foot (23-metre) boat, at about 3:15 a.m. on Monday while it was moored just off the shore of Santa Cruz Island.

The Conception had embarked for California’s Channel Islands on Saturday morning with 39 people on board. Five crew members who were above deck on the bridge escaped the fire as passengers slept in the ship’s lower quarters.

“This isn’t a day that we wanted to wake up to for Labor Day and it’s a very tragic event, Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester told a news conference earlier on Monday, saying the search would continue throughout the night.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown earlier told reporters eight bodies had been found on the ocean floor and in the area of the sunken vessel, which lies upside down under more than 60 feet (18 metres) of water.

Authorities were trying to determine the best way to recover the sunken vessel, including the possibility of towing it to shore, Brown added.

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