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Criminal probe into California dive boat fire that killed 34, including two Singaporeans

LOS ANGELES US federal authorities are conducting a criminal investigation into the fire on a dive boat that killed 34 people in one of California's worst maritime disasters, a law enforcement source said on Monday.

Two Singaporeans were victims: University of California, Berkeley postgraduate student Tan Wei, 26, and researcher Sunil Singh Sandhu, 46.

"We are conducting a joint investigation. No criminal charges have been filed at this time," the source told Reuters.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the US Coast Guard and local sheriff's deputies served search warrants at the offices of the boat's owner and two other ships belonging to the company.

The Conception, owned by California-based Truth Aquatics, erupted in flames at about 3.15am on Sept 2, killing 33 passengers and a crew member sleeping below deck as it sank off Santa Cruz Island.

Law enforcement officials declined to say what they were seeking during those searches. One of the other ships, the Vision, is said to closely resemble the Conception.

The Los Angeles Times reported the investigation was focused on possible safety lapses aboard the Conception, including the lack of a night watchman and failure to properly train the crew for such emergencies.

Crew members have told investigators they did not hear smoke alarms before awakening to discover flames erupting from below deck, National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy has said.

In a related development, the boat's owners have filed a pre-emptive lawsuit to protect their company from having to pay massive damages, reported The Straits Times.

It was filed last Thursday in Los Angeles, on behalf of boat operators Glen and Dana Fritzler, before the US authorities launched a criminal investigation into the fire. - REUTERS

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