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20 die in California boat fire

Oxnard, US: Twenty bodies have been found after a 75-foot commercial diving boat on a Labour Day excursion caught fire off the coast of Santa Cruz Island in Southern California.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said more than a dozen passengers were still missing. More victims are being recovered, but could not verify the total number. Earlier on Monday four bodies were recovered and had yet to be identified. Four other victims were spotted at the bottom of the ocean “in close proximity” to the boat, named the Conception, he said.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this tragedy,” Brown said.

There were a total of 39 people on board — 33 passengers and six crew members. At least 26 people are missing.

Good Samaritans were able to save five crew members, who were awake in the main cabin and jumped off the fully engulfed boat. The passengers were below deck in the berthing area.

A mayday call revealed one side of the harrowing discussion between a Coast Guard dispatcher and the Conception’s captain. Only the dispatcher’s words were captured, but it provides insight into the panic the captain was experiencing.

Of the crew who were rescued, one suffered minor injuries. Four of them were being taken ashore, while the Conception’s captain has opted to remain on the scene, Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Josue Mendez said.

Rochester earlier said the vessel complied with regulations. The cause of the blaze is not clear. Authorities said there was no evidence of a criminal act at this point.