Conception captain indicted on seaman’s manslaughter charges

Written by Nick Blenkey
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Conception’s burned hull at dawn on Sept. 2, 2019, prior to sinking. [Image: Ventura County Fire Department]

The captain of the Conception, the dive boat that caught fire last year with the loss of 34 lives, was yesterday indicted by a federal grand jury on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter.

Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, of Santa Barbara, Calif., was named in the indictment which that alleges that as the captain and master of the vessel, Boylan “was responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew, and its passengers.”

Federal prosecutors informed Boylan’s attorneys of the indictment after it was filed, and the defendant is expected to self-surrender to federal authorities in the coming weeks.

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.

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

The ongoing investigation of the case is being conducted by the FBI; Coast Guard Investigative Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The U.S.Attorney’s Office, Central District of California notes that 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, were able to escape and survived.

“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,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “The loss of life that day will forever impact the families of the 34 victims. With this indictment and our commitment to vigorously prosecute the case, we seek a small measure of justice for the victims and their loved ones.”

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