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California boat fire: Some deaths, 33 missing, officials say

California firefighters have reported some deaths in a fire on a boat carrying dozens of people off the coast of Southern California, US media reported.

The United States Coast Guard and firefighters responded early on Monday to a fire on a dive boat near Santa Cruz Island, which is off the coast of Santa Barbara. 

The Coast Guard said 33 people were still missing after most of the boat sank as firefighters battled the blaze. 

The Daily Beast quoted Captain Brian McGrath of the Ventura County Fire Department as saying that there were deaths. But McGrath said he could not give a number because the coastguard was still searching the water.

Matthew Kroll of the US Coast Guard said five crew members sleeping on the 75-foot (23-metre) boat’s top deck were rescued early morning near Santa Cruz Island. The island is about 90 miles (145km) from Los Angeles. One of the crew suffered minor injuries.

California boat fire
In this photo released by the Ventura County Fire Department, firefighters attempt to extinguish a fire on a boat off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, California [Handout/Ventura County Fire Department/AFP] 

The coastguard in Los Angeles said earlier that more than 30 people were “in distress” on board the boat.

“A group of crew members has been rescued [ones with minor injuries] and efforts continue to evacuate the remaining passengers,” the coastguard tweeted early on Monday.

“The vessel was reported as being on fire,” it said.

According to the Associated Press, the boat was on a Labor Day cruise, taking divers to the Channel Islands. 

The vessel, Conception, was operated by Santa Barbara-based Worldwide Diving Adventures, which said on its website it has been operating such expeditions since 1972.

This weekend trip had departed early Saturday morning with plans to return early Monday evening.

The boat was outfitted with dozens of small berths for people to sleep in overnight.

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