Conception boat fire: Captain charged over 34 deaths in California

California dive boat fire victims
First row, left to right: Lisa Fiedler, Angela Quitasol, Evan Quitasol, Nicole Storm Quitasol, Michael Quitasol and Fernisa Sison, Kaustubh Nirmal and Sanjeeri Deopujari Second row, l-to-r: Andrew Fritz and Adrian Dahood-Fritz, Sunil Sandhu, Yulia Krashennaya and Daniel Garcia, Allie Kurtz, Xiang Lin, Yuko Hatano Third row, l-to-r: Carrie McLaughlin, Raymond "Scott" Chan, Kendra Chan, Wei Tan, Marybeth Guiney, Charles McIlvain, Ted Strom Fourth row, l-to-r: Kristian Takvam, Justin Dignam; Diana Ademic, Berenice Felipe, Steve Salika and Tia Salika, Vaidehi Williams, Patricia Beitzinger and Neal Baltz, Kristy Finstad

The captain of a scuba-diving boat that was destroyed by fire last year off California has been charged with 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter.

Jerry Nehl Boylan caused the deaths of those aboard the Conception “by his misconduct, negligence and inattention to his duties”, says the indictment.

Prosecutors allege the 67 year old failed to have a night watchman or conduct fire drills as required by law.

All 33 passengers and a crew member sleeping below deck died.

Mr Boylan was among five crew members who managed to escape the blaze on the 75-ft (23m) vessel off Santa Barbara on 2 September 2019.

He is expected to surrender to the authorities at a later date. Each charge of seaman’s manslaughter carries up to 10 years in federal prison.

Kristi Johnson, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said on Tuesday: “This tragedy forever altered the lives of so many families and loved ones, and it deeply affected members of the public who watched in horror. We continue to grieve with them.

“Our hope is that this indictment leads to the prevention of boating accidents and the senseless destruction of lives through proper precautions and training.”

Mr Boylan has not publicly commented on the charges.

What happened to the boat?

The fire broke out in the early hours of the morning while the Conception was moored in Platt’s Harbour near Santa Cruz Island, south of Santa Barbara. At the time, it had been hosting a diving expedition over the Labour Day holiday weekend.

A US National Transportation Safety Board investigation determined the fire began in a middle deck area where lithium-ion batteries were being charged, though it was unclear exactly what ignited the blaze.

Map showing location of the fire north of Santa Cruz island


Those who survived had been above deck when the blaze broke out. They escaped by jumping overboard and swimming to another vessel nearby, called the Great Escape.

The crew members told investigators that the flames were too intense to save anyone trapped in the passenger quarters.

A grand jury cited three federal safety violations: failure to assign a night watch or roving patrol, to conduct sufficient crew training or to conduct adequate fire drills.


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