Dive Boat Captain Charged with Seaman’s Manslaughter in Fire off Santa Barbara Coast that Killed 34 People

The feds charged Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, the captain of the P/V Conception, a Santa Barbara-based dive boat that caught fire last year near Santa Cruz Island, resulting in the 33 passenger and one crew member’s deaths of 33 passengers and one crew member, with 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter.

As captain and master of the vessel, “[Boylan] was responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew, and its passengers.”

The indictment alleges that Boylan caused the deaths of 33 passengers and one crewmember “by 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 United States Coast Guard;

·         failing to conduct sufficient fire drills, which are mandated in the CFR; and

·         failing to conduct sufficient crew training, which was also required by the CFR.

The Conception was a 75-foot, wood-and-fiberglass passenger vessel that docked in Santa Barbara Harbor. During a Labor Day weekend dive trip last year, the boat carried 33 passengers and six crew members, including Boylan. During the early morning hours of September 2, 2019, a fire broke out while the boat was anchored in Platt’s Harbor near Santa Cruz Island. The fire, which engulfed the boat and led to its sinking, resulted in the deaths of 34 people who had been sleeping below deck. Five crewmembers, including Boylan, escaped and survived.

Each charge of seaman’s manslaughter carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

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