SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (KGTV) - The captain of the sister ship to the one that caught fire off the coast of Santa Barbara, killing at least 25, is sticking up for its crew.
Ian Higgins is the captain of the Vision, a sister ship nearly identical to the Conception, which caught fire near Santa Cruz island Monday morning.
Higgins spoke to 10News after media reports calling the safety protocol of the Conception into question.
"That vessel is inspected by the Coast Guard annually and also every five years for a more complete inspection," said Higgins, who works for Truth Aquatics. "If you think the Coast Guard would allow a vessel carrying that many passengers to operate without any type of fire suppression system, I don’t know what one would believe."
Records show the Conception had no issues after a Coast Guard inspection in February.
Higgins said any report that the passengers were locked in the ship is patently false. He said passengers are given safety briefings the morning after they get on the ship. In addition to the regular exit, there is an escape hatch that any human could get through, Higgins said.
Higgins stood up for Conception Capt. Jerry Boylan, saying he is a stickler for safety procedures.
"He's so safety conscious about all the different aspects of the vessel," he said. "He's about as stern as a mariner, as stern as a captain, as stern as an individual and safety conscious as an individual as one can be."
Higgins, originally from San Diego, said fires on a boat can spread extremely quickly, especially with flammable items on board.
"It's a wooden vessel, it's a plywood vessel," he said. "There’s seat cushions, there’s curtains and especially nowadays we have so many different batteries, lithium ion batteries that could spark the fire and heat up and explode in case of a fire. And a lot of the passengers that come on board these vessels bring all this stuff just like you would for any other type of tour."
Higgins said he and his colleagues are still trying to come to terms with the tragedy.
"It's almost like having an arm ripped off or losing something that’s so hard to lose," he said.
The wife of the boat's owner, Dana Fritzler, released the following statement:
The family is devastated. There’s no better captain than Jerry. No one. He kept everything on his boat immaculate and safe.