Conception captain pleads not guilty to manslaughter charges

The captain of sunken scuba diving vessel Conception has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges. Jerry Boylan was arraigned in federal court in Los Angeles on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter.

The 23-metre Conception caught fire overnight on September 2nd 2019.

The diving boat was chartered by Santa Barbara, California-based excursion firm Worldwide Diving Adventures and had been on a three-day excursion to the Channel Islands when a fire broke out, leading to 34 deaths, all but one of them passengers. Five crew, who had been sleeping above deck when the incident occurred, survived by swimming to a fishing boat a few hundred feet away.

Prosecutors said Boylan failed to follow safety rules on the vessel before the fire broke out. He has been accused of “misconduct, negligence and inattention” by failing to train his crew, conduct fire drills and have a roving night watchman on the boat when the fire ignited.

Boylan, 67, was indicted in December 2020 and surrendered for booking on February 16th. He was held in lockup and appeared in court by video wearing a blue surgical mask. He was expected to be released later on a $250,000 bond.

The federal charges against Boylan were brought under a pre-Civil War law designed to hold steamboat captains and crew responsible for maritime disasters. It is a rarely used law today.

Federal safety investigators blamed the owners of the vessel, Truth Aquatics Inc, for a lack of oversight, though the company has not been charged with a crime. Truth Aquatics has sued in federal court under a provision in maritime law to avoid payouts to the families of the victims. The families of 32 victims have filed claims against boat owners Glen and Dana Fritzler and the company.