Conception captain charged with seaman’s manslaughter

(SANTA BARBARA, Calif.) — The captain of a dive boat that caught fire last year off the coast of Santa Barbara was indicted Tuesday on 34 counts of negligent manslaughter, National Public Radio (NPR) reported.

Thirty-three passengers and one crewmember died during the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2019, when a fast-moving fire broke out on the 75-foot Conception. The boat was docked off Santa Cruz Island for a chartered three-day diving trip.

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

The captain, Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, and four other crewmembers escaped the fire considered one of California’s deadliest maritime disasters. Boylan is being charged with seaman’s manslaughter, which refers to misconduct or negligence in deaths involving vessels on U.S. waters. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors say the captain “was responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew, and its passengers” at the time of the fire, but that Boylan’s misconduct, negligence and failure to “follow well-established safety rules” caused the deaths of 34 people that night.

“A pleasant holiday dive trip turned into a hellish nightmare as passengers and one crew member found themselves trapped in a fiery bunk room with no means of escape,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna in a statement. “The loss of life that day will forever impact the families of the 34 victims.”

Prosecutors allege that Boylan failed to have a night watch or roving patrol on the boat, neglected to conduct sufficient fire drills, and failed to conduct sufficient crew training — all requirements under the Code of Federal Regulations.


By Professional Mariner Staff