The fire and subsequent sinking of a dive boat left at least 20 dead on Monday, which were located after intense search work throughout the day, and 14 disappeared near the island of Santa Cruz, in California, USA.
Los Angeles Coast Guard sources – Long Beach sector updated the number of bodies found by agents, EFE said.
From Monday morning the authorities launched an extensive search operation while preparing for the possibility of finding no more survivors beyond the 5 confirmed.
For now, California rescue teams will continue to search for potential survivors, said Mike Eliason, the spokesman for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, in statements to the CNN news network.
«A search and rescue effort will continue until dawn,» said Eliason.
Most of the ship’s crew, called Conception, were sleeping under the boat’s deck when the fire was declared early Monday, according to the Coast Guard.
The same agency confirmed that 39 people were on board the ship, of which 6 were crew members and 33 were passengers.
The five survivors – two of them with wounds on one leg – were crew members who were awake on the deck and jumped into the water, where they were rescued by a leisure boat called Grape Escape and taken to the coast, the Coast Guard said. .
After several hours of searching under heavy fog, the forensic office of the bailiff of Santa Barbara County was preparing for the possibility of finding no more live crew.
«We are enlisting resources to address the potential for many deaths (due to fire) on this ship,» spokesman for the forensic office, Erik Raney, told the Los Angeles Times.
Eliason also hinted at that possibility, assuring EFE that the efforts of rescue teams were concentrating «more on recovering than on rescuing» crew members.
«This is probably the worst scenario we could have encountered: it was a closed night, almost everyone was asleep under the deck, and the ship was in a remote place,» said Sheriff Brown.
The Coast Guard received a distress call about 03.15 local time (10.15 GMT time) and quickly sent teams to the site, but the boat sank as they tried to put out the fire.
«I can’t breathe,» said one of the ship’s crew on the distress call, whose choppy recording was published by several local television networks.
«Do you not have any type of fire equipment on board? Not even a fire extinguisher? ”Asked the person in charge of the Coast Guard who answered the call, without receiving an audible response, according to the CNN network.
«When the call came, the ship was already completely engulfed in flames,» said Captain Monica Rochester, commander of the Los Angeles Coast Guard-Long Beach sector, at a press conference.
The reasons for the Conception fire are unknown, a boat of the diving company Truth Aquatics that departed from Santa Barbara on Saturday for a diving excursion and planned to return to the coast this Monday around 17.00 local time (00.00).
The authorities have no reason to suspect a «criminal» act, but they have not ruled out that possibility either, and they also inquire into the option of propane tanks aboard the ship causing an ignition, according to Brown.
Truth Aquatics, a Santa Barbara company with some prestige in the world of diving, avoided commenting to the media, but the Coast Guard told CNN that it was working with them to respond to the disaster.
The Conception has been in circulation for almost four decades, since 1981, but it passed its latest safety inspections without problems, in February and August 2018, according to Coast Guard reports cited by the local NBC channel.
An inspection in 2016 found a problem in the heat detector in the galley and another in 2014 concluded that there were leaks in the hose, but the documents indicate that those problems were quickly solved.