Captain found guilty of negligence in Conception fire

(LOS ANGELES) — After a day of deliberations, a federal court jury on Monday found former Conception dive boat captain Jerry Boylan guilty of gross negligence in the deaths of 34 people, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The vessel caught fire in the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2019, while it was anchored off Santa Cruz Island, trapping 33 passengers and one crewmember in the bunk room.

Prosecutors said Boylan, who had been a captain for 34 years, was negligent in failing to appoint a night watch or to drill his crew in fire safety. When the fire broke out — reportedly originating in a trash can — chaos ensued among Boylan’s inexperienced, ill-trained crew. In the bedlam, a crewmember twice ran right by a 50-foot firehose.

The dive boat Conception burns off Santa Cruz Island on Sept. 2, 2019. Santa Barbara County Fire Department photo

Boylan, then 66, woke up amid the smoke and flames, called in a mayday and jumped overboard, actions that prosecutors said amounted to abandoning his ship. The 34 people crowded in the windowless bunk room lived for minutes after he did so, but they had no exit — the stairs and the escape hatch were blocked by flames.

Boylan’s attorneys with the federal public defender’s office argued that there was little he could do by the time he woke up to “an unstoppable inferno,” and that the fire hoses were unusable because they were ablaze.

Defense attorneys said Boylan learned how to run a boat from Glen Fritzler, the owner of Conception and the company Truth Aquatics, whose boats did not use an overnight watch.

Boylan, who had been with the company for decades, did not know that doing things “the Fritzler way” was endangering people, the defense attorneys argued.

Federal prosecutors derided the argument as the “blaming your boss” defense, and said he had “rolled the dice” with his passengers’ lives.

Read more about the Conception fire investigation here.

By Professional Mariner Staff