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    Snoozing crew raises specter of criminal charge in boat fire

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — United States (US) Federal investigators identified a violation of Coast Guard regulations that could trigger criminal charges in the California dive boat disaster that killed 34 people.

    The National Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday that all crew members on the boat Conception were asleep when the pre-dawn fire broke out September 2 off the coast of Santa Barbara. The boat was required to have a crew member on lookout duty, according to Coast Guard rules.

    “A member of the vessel’s crew shall be designated by the master as a roving patrol at all times, whether or not the vessel is underway, when the passenger’s bunks are occupied,” the boat’s inspection certificate said as a condition of operation.

    Federal investigators are searching for the cause of fire and looking into possible criminal charges that would likely focus on an obscure federal law known as the seaman’s manslaughter statute.

    Under the pre-Civil War law that can bring penalties up to 10 years in prison, prosecutors only need to show negligence or that the captain or crew committed misconduct or neglected their duties.

    Defence lawyers and law professors said that failure to appoint a night watchman or falling asleep on the job could be enough to bring charges.

    The burned hull of the Conception is brought to the surface by a salvage team off Santa Cruz Island in the Santa Barbara Channel in Southern California. PHOTO: AP

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