Santa Barbara dive boat captain charged with manslaughter

A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted the captain of the Santa Barbara-based dive boat that burst into flames in 2019, killing 33 passengers and one crew member, on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter.

The grand jury alleges Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, of Santa Barbara, as the captain and master of the vessel, “was responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew, and its passengers.” As such, he caused the deaths of 33 passengers and one crewmember “by his misconduct, negligence, and inattention to his duties.”

The indictment cites three specific safety violations:

Failure to have a night watch or roving patrol, which was required by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and for over 20 years was a requirement in the Conception’s Certificate of Inspection issued by the United States Coast Guard.

Failure to conduct sufficient fire drills, which are mandated in the CFR.

Failure to conduct sufficient crew training, which was also required by the CFR.

The Conception, a 75-foot commercial diving vessel, was anchored off the north side of Santa Cruz Island for a weekend diving excursion. During the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2019, a fire engulfed the boat and led to its sinking, resulted in the deaths of 34 people who had been sleeping below deck. Five crew members, including Boylan, were able to escape and survived.

“As a result of the alleged failures of Captain Boylan to follow well-established safety rules, 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,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “The loss of life that day will forever impact the families of the 34 victims. With this indictment and our commitment to vigorously prosecute the case, we seek a small measure of justice for the victims and their loved ones.”

Each charge of seaman’s manslaughter carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison. An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The ongoing investigation into the fire and deaths is being conducted by the FBI and Coast Guard Investigative Service with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives providing significant assistance and technical expertise.

Federal prosecutors informed Boylan’s attorneys of the indictment after it was filed, and the defendant is expected to self-surrender to federal authorities in the coming weeks.

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