At approximately 3:30 a.m., the US Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach watchstanders overheard a mayday call via channel 16 of an engulfed 75-foot commercial diving vessel with 39 people aboard.

The 23-metres-long diving boat ‘Conception’ suffered a major fire at about 3:15 a.m. on Monday, while moored just off the shore of Santa Cruz Island.

The Conception had embarked for California’s Channel Islands on Saturday morning with 39 people onboard.

Five crew members who were above deck on the bridge escaped the fire, as passengers slept in the ship’s lower quarters. The vessel eventually sank around 7:20 a.m.

The surviving crew members sought refuge on a fishing boat moored a few hundred feet away, Reuters reported.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown earlier told reporters eight bodies had been found on the ocean floor and in the area of the sunken vessel.

Authorities were trying to determine the best way to recover the sunken vessel, including the possibility of towing it to shore, he added.

Scuba or propane tanks on the Conception may have exploded in the fire, but that had not been confirmed, Brown said, adding it was unclear if there was an initial explosion that caused the fire. However, reports say the boat was totally engulfed in flames.

Search and rescue operations continue.

See how the accident was covered by local media: