SINGAPORE: Two Singaporeans are feared dead after a scuba diving vessel caught fire and sank off the California coast in the United States.
Thirty-four people were killed in the pre-dawn fire on the Conception boat on Monday (Sep 2). The badly burned bodies of all but one of the victims have been recovered, US officials said.
According to US authorities, the names of two Singaporeans are listed on the passenger manifest of the Conception, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said on Thursday.
Search operations and identification of the victims by the US are ongoing, MFA said.
“The Singapore Consulate-General in San Francisco is in close contact with the local authorities and has deployed an officer on the ground to gather more information about the two Singaporeans,” it said.
The ministry added that it is in contact with the Singaporeans’ next-of-kin and will render assistance to them.
US authorities have said they will use a DNA analysis tool typically employed in war zones to identify the 33 recovered bodies.
The only survivors of the accident, the captain and four crew members, were on deck when the flames erupted shortly after 3am Pacific time on Monday (6pm Singapore time) and were able to escape in an inflatable lifeboat, US investigators said.
The 34 victims, including passengers and one crew member, were sleeping below deck. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown has said the two exits, a stairway to the galley and an escape hatch, may have both been blocked by fire.
The crew members sought refuge on a fishing boat moored a few hundred feet away, banging on the side to wake up Mr Bob Hansen and his wife, who were sleeping onboard.
"When we looked out, the other boat was totally engulfed in flames, from stem to stern," Mr Hansen said in an interview with the New York Times. "There were these explosions every few beats. You can't prepare yourself for that. It was horrendous."
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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!"
A Coast Guard operator is heard asking the man if the passengers can get off the boat and if the crew has fire extinguishers, but the response is inaudible.
Investigators said a single mayday call came from the boat reporting the fire, but they could not confirm the cause.
The US' National Transportation Safety Board said on Wednesday it is interviewing witnesses and mapping the wreckage of the Conception, a 23-metre boat, which lay upside down about 20m below the surface.
The dive boat company operating the Conception, Truth Aquatics, has suspended its dive expeditions during the investigation.
The preliminary findings will be issued in 10 days and the final report will take up to 18 months to complete, the National Transportation Safety Board said.