The Conception, a submersible, caught fire off the coast of Santa Cruz Island on Labor Day 2019, resulting in the deaths of 34 of the 38 people on board, making it one of the deadliest maritime accidents in U.S. history. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the failure to station a patrol on the ship contributed to the high death toll, as all crew members were asleep when the fire broke out. The shipowners invoked the Limitation of Liability Act to limit their financial liability to the value of the ship, sparking debate and calls for changes to maritime law.
The shipowners’ use of the Limitation of Liability Act led to calls for changes to maritime law, which culminated in the passage of the Small Passenger Vessel Liability Fairness Act of 2021. This act excludes small passenger ships from the Limitation of Liability Act, defining them as vessels with a gross tonnage of under 500 tons and carrying 12 passengers or less. This change marks the third time in history that the Limitation of Liability Act has been amended, and it aims to improve the safety and accountability of small passenger ships in the wake of the Conception disaster.
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