Feds said the captain violated major safety guidelines during the 2019 trip.
December 2, 2020, 2:03 AM
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Federal prosecutors announced Tuesday that a grand jury indicted the captain who piloted a boat that caught fire off the coast of Santa Barbara last year with 34 counts of seaman's manslaughter.
Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, of Santa Barbara, the captain of the Conception during the scuba diving excursion during the 2019 Labor Day weekend, "was responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew, and its passengers," according to Nicola T. Hanna, the United States attorney for the Central District of California.
During the early morning hours on Sept. 2, 2019, the 75-foot boat caught on fire while it was docked at Platt's Harbor near Santa Cruz Island, killing 33 passengers and one crew member. Boylan and four other crew members survived.
The cause for the fire could not be identified due to the boat burning and sinking, according to a report released in October by the National Transportation Safety Board, but it did say the fire started in the rear of the main back salon where the passengers had plugged in their phones and other devices before going to sleep.
Boylan and the surviving crew members had tried to rescue the passengers below deck before eventually jumping overboard.
Hanna said Boylan caused the deaths "by his misconduct, negligence, and inattention to his duties."
"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," she said in a statement.
The dive boat Conception is engulfed in flames after a deadly fire broke out aboard the commercial scuba diving vessel off the Southern California Coast, Sept. 2, 2019.
Boylan's attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.
The U.S. attorney's office said the captain violated three safety guidelines that are required by the Code of Federal Regulations. Boylan allegedly failed to have a night watch or roving patrol, even though those were required for the boat's inspection certificate by the U.S. Coast Guard, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
The captain allegedly didn't conduct mandated fire drills and didn't provide significant training for its crew, according to the indictment.
The burned hulk of the Conception is brought to the surface by a salvage team in the Santa Barbara Channel off of Santa Cruz Island, Calif., Sept. 12, 2019.
Each charge of seaman's manslaughter carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
"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 U.S. attorney's office said in a news release.
The families of many of those who died in the fire have filed wrongful death lawsuits against Boylan and the owners of Truth Aquatics, the Conception's owners, contending they knew about the safety hazards.
Truth Aquatics did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday's indictment.
In the report released by the NTSB, the agency found "the probable cause of the accident on board the small passenger vessel Conception was the failure of Truth Aquatics, Inc., to provide effective oversight of its vessel and crewmember operations."