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Official: Exam doesn’t find cause of boat fire

LOS ANGELES — Investigators completed a two-week examination of the charred wreckage of a scuba diving boat and could not determine what ignited the fire that killed 34 people off the Southern California coast, a law enforcement official said Friday.

The boat, named Conception, was anchored just off Santa Cruz Island when it caught fire and sank early on Sept. 2. It was raised and brought to Port Hueneme, a naval base northwest of Los Angeles, where specially trained teams from the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tried to figure out what sparked the blaze.

They completed their work there without finding the cause, but the investigation will continue, said the official, who was not authorized to release the information publicly and on condition of anonymity.


Pieces of the boat have been sent to labs for more tests, and investigators are poring through hundreds of documents seized from the boat’s operator, Truth Aquatics Inc., the official said. Some parts of the boat washed away when it was submerged.

Carlos Canino, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Los Angeles office, said there’s no target date for completing the investigation. ‘‘That all depends on the science and the evidence.’’

According to a statement made through their attorney Douglas Schwartz, the Fritzler family, owners of the Conception, said: ‘‘For the sake of the victims, their loved ones, and the crew, Glen [Fritzler] and his family want answers. It has become Glen’s personal mission that this never happens in the passenger boat industry again.”

The cause ultimately will be ruled as accidental, incendiary — meaning it was deliberately set — or undetermined. Authorities have said there is no indication the fire was arson.

In the meantime, the Coast Guard, FBI, and US attorney’s office in Los Angeles are leading a criminal probe, and the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating safety issues.


Coast Guard rules require a ‘‘roving’’ night watch, but investigators have said the captain and four crew members were asleep on the upper deck when the fire broke out around 3 a.m. and quickly swept through the boat. The 33 passengers and a deckhand sleeping below deck during a three-day scuba diving excursion were trapped and died.