Captain Jerry Nehl Boylan, whose dive boat P/V Conception caught fire last year and killed 33 passengers and one crew member, was formally indicted Tuesday on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter.
According to The United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, a federal grand jury indicted the captain based on the allegation that “his misconduct, negligence, and inattention to his duties” led to the deaths of 34 people.
Three specific safety violations were cited in the indictment: Boylan’s failure to have a night watch or roving patrol, his failure to conduct sufficient fire drills, and his failure to conduct sufficient crew training — all of which were required by the Code of Federal Regulations.
The Conception was anchored in Platt’s Harbor near Santa Cruz Island when it caught fire during the early morning hours of September 2, 2019. The fire engulfed the 75-foot, wood-and-fiberglass dive boat and led to its sinking. Five crew members, including Boylan, were able to escape the inferno and survive.
“As a result of the alleged failures of Captain Boylan to follow well-established safety rules, a pleasant [Labor Day] 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,” United States Attorney Nick Hanna said of the incident. “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.”
Investigators have stated that the cause of the deadly blaze remains a mystery and that the fire began in a section of the boat where several technological devices were plugged in (including phones, flashlights, and other items with combustible batteries).
Each individual charge of seaman’s manslaughter carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison, thereby leading 67-year-old Boylan to face a potential sentence of 340 years in prison.
Boylan’s attorneys were informed of the indictment by federal prosecutors, and the captain is expected to self-surrender to federal authorities in the coming weeks.