Congressmember Salud Carbajal | Credit: Courtesy

The passage on Tuesday afternoon of a Coast Guard funding act included reforms to the 171-year-old maritime law that shields shipowners from liability damages in a maritime disaster by limiting payouts to the value of the ship. This House of Representatives legislation is directly due to the 34 deaths aboard the Conception dive boat, said Congressmember Salud Carbajal in speaking for the funding authorization, but the bipartisan bill was unable to make its provisions retroactive to 2019, when the Conception burned to the waterline and sank, killing all its passengers and one crewmember.

“Unfortunately, in the course of bipartisan negotiations on this package, there were some that felt that making this change retroactive for all past maritime accidents, as I had proposed, would go too far,” Carbajal said on the floor of the House. “I completely disagree with that line of thinking, especially when it comes to getting justice for victims’ families — but I believe fixing our laws for the future will be the best case for proving them wrong. Whether through the conference process or through additional legislation, I will continue advocating for this change to be made retroactive to enable restitution for the families of Conception victims that I have worked with and gotten to know over the past three years. I have pledged to them that I will keep fighting, and I will keep that pledge.”

Congressmember Salud Carbajal (right) talked with members of the Coast Guard before a hearing held in Santa Barbara’s City Hall on March 23, 2022. | Credit: Courtesy

Carbajal said the Conception caused “the largest loss of life … in decades” from a U.S. marine catastrophe. The reform language requires owners of small passenger vessels to be responsible for damages in future accidents and incidents, regardless of the value of the boat, a statement from Carbajal’s office explained. The bill also lengthens the claim period from six months to two years.

Overall, the bill gives the Coast Guard an increase from its $11.5 billion annual budget to $12.8 billion in 2022 and $13.9 billion in 2023, increases in funding advocated for during a hearing held in Santa Barbara regarding the Conception last week. The Don Young Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022 now heads for the Senate.

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