Captain guilty over boat fire that killed 34 off California coast

Jerry Boylan was in charge of the Conception when the fatal fire broke out aboard in 2019

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Monday 06 November 2023 20:52 EST

Related video: Families of 34 Conception boat fire victims sue Coast Guard in LA

A captain has been found guilty of “seaman’s manslaughter” over a blaze that killed 34 people asleep on a scuba diving boat off California.

Jerry Boylan was in charge of the Conception when the fatal fire broke out on board as it was anchored off Santa Cruz Island in September 2019. Thirty-three passengers and one crew member all perished in the fire, the deadliest maritime disaster in recent years.

Boylan, 67, was found guilty of one count of misconduct or neglect of ship officer, according to the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles on Monday.

The veteran captain faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced in February.

Prosecutors say that Boylan, who had been a captain for 34 years, was the first person to jump overboard as the fire raged on the boat, trapping the victims in a bunk room below deck. Four other crew members who jumped into the water also survived.

Jerry Boylan, captain of the Conception, right, arrives at federal court in Los Angeles in October

Investigators announced in February 2020 that they had been unable to pinpoint what exactly caused the devastating fire, but said that it had started in an area of the main deck salon where passengers had plugged in phones, flashlights and other items to charge.

Prosecutors alleged that Boylan, who had pleaded not guilty to 34 counts, had failed to post a roving night watch, which could have detected the fire before it spread through the 75ft dive boat.

Assistant US Attorney Brian Faerstein told the jury during closing arguments that not appointing a roving watch was equivalent to “a roll of the dice every night that his passengers went to sleep ... in the remote and isolated waters of the Pacific Ocean.”

Firefighters respond to the fire aboard the Conception dive boat fire

Lawyers for Boylan had blamed the tragedy on boat owner Glen Fritzler of Truth Aquatics Inc, who they argued was responsible for failing to train the crew in firefighting and safety measures.

They also argued that no captain who worked for Mr Fritzler posted a roving watch.

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