Conception’s captain charged with manslaughter after fire killed 34

Jerry Nehl Boylan, the captain of dive boat Conception, was indicted on Tuesday December 1st by a US federal grand jury on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter.

The Conception caught fire overnight last year near Santa Cruz Island of southern California, resulting in 34 deaths,

Boylan, of Santa Barbara, California, is alleged as the captain and master of the Conception to have been “responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew, and its passengers.”

Boylan is alleged in the indictment to have caused the deaths of 33 passengers and one crew member as a result of “his misconduct, negligence and inattention to his duties”.

The indictment cites three specific safety violations:

  • failing to have a night watch or roving patrol, which was required by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and for over 20 years was a requirement in the Conception’s Certificate of Inspection issued by the US Coast Guard;
  • failing to conduct sufficient fire drills, which are mandated in the CFR;
  • failing to conduct sufficient crew training, which was also required by the CFR.

The Conception was a 75ft, wood-and-fiberglass passenger vessel that docked in Santa Barbara Harbour. During a weekend dive trip at the start of September last year, the boat was carrying 33 passengers and six crew members, including Boylan. During the early morning hours of September 2nd 2019 a fire broke out while the boat was anchored in Platt’s Harbour near Santa Cruz Island. The fire engulfed the boat and led to its sinking, resulting in the deaths of 34 people who had been sleeping below deck. Five crewmembers, including Boylan, were sleeping above deck and thus were able to escape.

“As a result of the alleged failures of Captain Boylan to follow well-established safety rules, a pleasant holiday dive trip turned into a hellish nightmare as passengers and one crew member found themselves trapped in a fiery bunkroom with no means of escape”, US Attorney Nick Hanna said.

Federal prosecutors informed Boylan’s attorneys of the indictment after it was filed. The defendant is expected to self-surrender to federal authorities in the coming weeks. Each charge of seaman’s manslaughter carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.