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Conception captain guilty of negligence



The captain of the dive charter boat Conception, which caught fire – subsequently causing the deaths of 34 people – in California four years ago has been found guilty of negligence.

As reported by Scuba Diver in December 2020, Jerry Boylan was charged with 34 counts of seaman's manslaughter over the tragic boat fire – among the worst maritime disasters in California.

A grand jury cited three federal safety violations by Boylan – failure to assign a night watch or roving patrol, to conduct sufficient crew training, or to conduct adequate fire drills – and claimed that the captain caused the deaths of those onboard his vessel ‘by his misconduct, negligence and inattention to his duties'.

All 33 passengers and a crew member sleeping below deck died in the fierce blaze that took hold of the 22-metre Conception as it was moored up in Platt's Harbour near Santa Cruz Island, off Santa Barbara, in September 2019. Crew members sleeping above decks were able to escape the flames by leaping into the sea.

Boylan, now 69, was convicted of one count of ‘seaman's manslaughter' after a ten-day trial in Los Angeles. Prosecutors said the captain failed to have a night watchman or conduct fire drills as required by law.

Boylan was among five crew members who managed to escape the blaze on the vessel. They escaped by jumping overboard and swimming to another vessel nearby.

United States Attorney Martin Estrada said: “This ship captain's unpardonable cowardice led to the deaths of 34 lives on Labour Day 2019.

“As the jury found, this tragedy could have been avoided had Mr Boylan simply performed the duties he was entrusted to carry out. We hope that this verdict brings some solace and closure to the victims' loved ones.”

Boylan faces a sentence of up to ten years behind bars and will learn his fate on 8 February 2024.

Photo credit: Santa Barbara County Fire Department and Ventura County Fire Department

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Picture of Mark Evans
Mark Evans
Scuba Diver's Editorial Director Mark Evans has been in the diving industry for nearly 25 years, and has been diving since he was just 12 years old. nearly 40-odd years later and he is still addicted to the underwater world.
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