In Brief

At least 25 dead in California boat fire

Nine still missing after boat caught fire in early hours of Monday morning

At least 25 people have died after a dive boat caught fire and sank off the coast of southern California and another nine people are still missing.

Four crew members and the captain were able to escape from the Conception, a 75-foot commercial scuba diving boat, after it caught fire in the early hours of Monday morning, but so far there have been no survivors among the passengers.

Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Matthew Kroll said authorities have now recovered 20 bodies and know the location of five others which cannot yet be recovered due to unsafe conditions under the boat, Sky News reports.

Nine people are still unaccounted for.

The Los Angeles coast guard sector said it responded to a mayday call coming from the boat at approximately 3.15am local time. Audio of the distress call captured someone on board shouting, “I can’t breathe,” before the call was cut off.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the disaster occurred in “probably the worst case scenario you could possibly have”, because most passengers would have been asleep when the fire broke out. Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the blaze, the Associated Press reports.

Brown added: “We understand the tremendous burden that [families] are under as they wait to determine exactly what happened and what condition ... their loved ones are in,” he said.

The Guardian says the Conception owned by a company called Truth Aquatics, a local boat rental service that offers diving tours.

It was being used for a three-day diving tour of islands, including Santa Cruz Island, just off the coast of Santa Barbara. Passengers boarded the boat at Santa Barbara Harbour on Friday night, and the vessel was set to return late yesterday afternoon.

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