20 bodies recovered after California dive boat disaster

A man places flowers at a memorial wall near the Truth Aquatics moorings, where the Conception, which burned and sank off the Santa Cruz Islands, was based in Santa Barbara, California. (AFP)
Updated 03 September 2019

20 bodies recovered after California dive boat disaster

  • The remains of 11 women and nine men have been transferred to coroner offices following the disaster
  • Five crew members escaped by jumping off the vessel and taking refuge on an inflatable boat

SANTA BARBARA, California: Search operations for survivors of a scuba diving boat disaster off the California coast were suspended Tuesday after divers recovered 20 bodies and spotted another four to six trapped in underwater wreckage.
The remains of 11 women and nine men have been transferred to coroner offices following the disaster on Monday, when the 75-foot (23-meter) Conception caught fire and sank with passengers trapped below deck by the roaring blaze.
“Today we will begin the process of mapping DNA profiles of the 20 victims that we have recovered so far, so that they can be compared with family samples,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown told a news conference.
The boat had been on a diving excursion around Santa Cruz Island, just west of Santa Barbara in southern California, when disaster struck early Monday.
Five crew members were awake and jumped into the water when flames burst out around 3:15 am. They were rescued by a nearby pleasure craft.
A total of 39 were on board, officials said, leaving 14 yet to be recovered and presumed dead.
Both a stairwell and an escape hatch leading down to the lower deck where passengers were sleeping appeared to have been blocked by the inferno, Brown said.
On Tuesday, emergency officials will attempt to stabilize the boat so that divers can safely enter it and retrieve remaining victims.
A debris field around half a mile in size will be mapped and searched for additional victims and evidence of what caused the fire.
Mourners gathering at the Santa Barbara docks hung white, red and yellow flowers and wrote messages of condolences on items affixed to a metal fence by the waterfront.
One, written on a pair of blue diving fins, said: “We love you Conception.”
The search operation saw three helicopter crews and boats scour a region covering 160 miles for just under 24 hours, but find no signs of survivors, said Coast Guard Captain Monica Rochester.
“It is never an easy decision to suspend search efforts,” she said. “We know this is a very difficult time for family and friends of the victims.”
The operation will now enter a recovery and investigation phase “to try and determine why this incident occurred,” she added.
Mark Hartwig, county fire chief, said authorities were “expending all necessary means to find out the cause and origin of the fire.”
Bob Hansen, a sailor on board the nearby pleasure boat that rescued the crew members, told the Los Angeles Times he heard “explosions going off every couple of minutes,” which may have been caused by dive tanks exploding.
“It made me feel so helpless,” he said.
Rochester, the coast guard captain, said earlier that all the passengers were believed to have been sleeping when the fire broke out.
US news outlets released audio of a distress call in which a crew member on the boat yells, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” and “I can’t breathe!“
The Truth Aquatics website said the Conception, listed as having bunks for up to 46 people, had been scheduled to return Monday from a three-day trip after visiting several diving spots around Santa Cruz Island.
It was just 20 yards (meters) off the island’s northern shore when disaster struck.
The area is popular for a variety of water and outdoor sports.


Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

Updated 31 min 52 sec ago

Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

MANILA: Virgilio Estuesta has picked through trash in the Philippines’ biggest city for four decades, and is noticing an unusually large amount of plastics during his daily trawl of about 15 km (9.3 miles).
Tough curbs re-imposed to combat a surge in daily coronavirus infections are squeezing income for the 60-year-old, as many of the junkyards and businesses in Manila that buy his recyclables have been closed since March.
Plastic items, such as bottles and containers, dominate the contents of the rickety wooden cart Estuesta pushes through the deserted streets, far more than metals and cardboard, yet the money they bring in is not enough to get by.
“It’s been really hard for us, it’s been difficult looking for recyclables that sell high,” he said.
“Recently we’ve been seeing a lot more plastics, but the problem is they don’t really sell high.”
Environmentalists say the Philippines is battling one of the world’s biggest problems stemming from single-use plastics, and ranks among the biggest contributors to plastic pollution of the oceans. It has no reliable data for its plastics consumption.
Greenpeace campaigner Marian Ledesma said consumers and businesses are now using yet more single-use plastics, in a bid to ward off virus infections.
“The pandemic has really increased plastic pollution,” she added. “Just because there’s a lot more people using disposables now, due to misconceptions and fears around transmitting the virus.”
Since March 16, Manila has experienced lockdowns of varying levels of severity, in some of the world’s longest and tightest measures to curb the spread of the virus.
They are taking a toll on Estuesta, who hopes to start earning soon.
“When you go out, the police will reprimand you,” he said. “I was stuck at home and had to rely on government aid, which was not enough. I had to resort to borrowing money from people.”