Dive Boat Captain Indicted on 34-Counts of Manslaughter in Massive Pleasure Craft Fire

A federal grand jury in California handed down a 34-count indictment for manslaughter against Jerry Nehl Boylan, the 67-year-old captain of the dive boat christened Conception. The indictment, stemming from the deaths of 34 people on the pleasure watercraft, was announced overnight December 1-2, 2020, on a statement from United States Attorney Nick Hanna.

The catastrophic blaze that destroyed the 75-foot dive boat and took the lives of 34 people occurred late in 2019 off the California coast, near Santa Cruz Island. The boat had been anchored off the island for the night, the blaze igniting while the passenger and crew slept.

33 passengers and one crew member were below deck for the night. There remains a lack of clarity as to how and why the passengers were unable to exit the lower deck area after the fire broke out. Five other crew members, including the indicted boat’s captain, were not below deck for the night and were able to escape the watercraft when the fire broke out. There have been significant questions about what the crew did or failed to do to attempt to rescue the trapped passengers below deck. The consensus among investigators is that the crew members focused only on getting off the boat and took no significant steps to provide assistance to those people who ended up perishing in the fire.

In addition to investigators associated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement agencies, the National Transportation Safety Board conducted an extensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding the cataclysmic blaze. Investigators from the NTSB have not been able to pinpoint the cause of the deadly fire with absolute certainty. With that said, NTSB investigators tend to believe that the blaze likely arose from a number of cellphones and batteries that were left to charge overnight.

The NTSB did reach a clear conclusion on how the deaths on the Conception dive boat could have been avoided. The NTSB announced that the tragedy could have been prevented if the company that operated the dive boat had a suitable night watchperson on duty.

The NTSB cited the company that owned the Conception dive boat for a trio of violations:

  • Failure to have a roving patrol at night (or a night watchperson)
  • Failure to conduct sufficient fire drills
  • Failure to conduct sufficient crew training

The indicted Conception dive boat captain is not currently in custody. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the defendant is expected to self-surrender to authorities “in coming weeks.” The U.S. Attorney went on to stated: “A pleasant holiday 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. The loss of life that day will forever impact the families of the 34 victims.”

Technically, the Conception dive boat captain is charged with 34-counts of seaman’s manslaughter. Each of the 34 charges carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in a federal prison.

Although the Conception dive boat catastrophe is a particularly alarming incident, horrific boating accidents occur every year in the United States. If you’ve been injured in a boating accident, or if you’ve lost a loved one in a boating or aquatic accident, the legal team at The Doan Law Firm is here for you. A nationwide law firm, we’ve eight offices in California and 40 located across the United States, including in Los Angeles at:

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We’ve set up 24-hour hotlines for people in need of assistance from a boating accident lawyer. Locally, in California, you can reach us at (424) 334-0000. Nationally, you can connect with our legal team at (800) 349-0000. Our hotlines are open 365 days a year, including all major holidays.

We can schedule an initial consultation at any one of our offices. We can also arrange a case evaluation with a boating accident lawyer online as well. There is no charge and no obligation for a case evaluation.

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