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The commercial dive boat Conception at sunrise prior to sinking, September 2, 2019. (Source: Ventura County Fire Department)

The commercial dive boat Conception at sunrise prior to sinking, September 2, 2019. (Source: Ventura County Fire Department)

Conception Dive Boat Captain Sentence to Four Years in Prison Over 2019 Tragedy

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 4160
May 2, 2024

The captain of the dive boat Conception that caught fire and sank off the California coast in 2019, resulting in 34 deaths, has been sentenced to four years in prison over the tragedy.

Jerry Nehl Boylan, 69, of Santa Barbara, was convicted in November 2023 of “seaman’s manslaughter,” a crime punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison.

The Conception, a 75-foot passenger vessel, was involved in a tragic fire in September 2019 while anchored near Santa Cruz Island, resulting in the deaths of 34 people who were asleep below deck. Only five crewmembers, including Boylan, were able to escape and survive.

According to evidence presented at a 10-day trial, Boylan committed a series of failures — including abandoning his ship instead of rescuing passengers — that resulted in the disaster and led to the deaths of the 34 victims.

The jury found that Boylan had failed his responsibilities in several ways during the incident. These included not having a night watch, insufficient fire drills and crew training, not providing firefighting instructions or using firefighting equipment, not performing any lifesaving or firefighting activities, not warning passengers and crew about the fire, and abandoning ship while passengers and a crewmember were still trapped below deck.

In his defense, Boylan’s lawyers blamed the vessel’s owner for not requiring night patrols or fire training. They also argued that he broadcasted a distress call before jumping overboard when he believed he wouldn’t survive.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the owner and operator of the Conception, Truth Aquatics, Inc., failed to provide effective oversight of the vessel and its crew operations. This lack of oversight allowed an undetected fire to grow, ultimately causing the tragedy. The NTSB also highlighted the absence of smoke detection in all accommodation spaces and inadequate emergency escape arrangements as contributing factors to the high loss of life.

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