Jerry Boylan, a former boat captain in Santa Barbara, was convicted of so-called ‘seaman’s manslaughter’ after abandoning 34 people on his vessel during a fire (Pictures: AP)
The captain of a California dive boat was found guilty of ‘seaman’s manslaughter’ after 34 people died in a fire on his vessel in 2019.
Jerry Boylan, 69, was found guilty of misconduct or neglect of a ship officer, for the disastrous fire that sparked while his ship was anchored at Santa Cruz Island over four years ago.
US Attorney Martin Estrada blamed Boylan’s ‘unpardonable cowardice’ for the deaths of all 34 people.
Boylan was the captain of the Conception, a 75-foot wood-and-fiberglass yacht that regularly took passengers on dive trips out of Santa Barbara.
The Conception burns off the coast of Santa Cruz Island in California (Picture: MIKE ELIASON/Santa Barbara County Fire Depart/AFP via Getty Images)
The Conception left port for a weekend-long scuba diving excursion over Labor Day weekend in 2019. It carried 33 passengers and six crew members, including Boylan.
A fire broke out on the vessel overnight on September 2, 2019, just before dawn on the last day of the cruise.
The exact cause of the blaze has not been determined, but investigators believe it may have been sparked by lithium-ion batteries in devices plugged in to power strips to charge cell phones.
A report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also faulted the ship for not conducting roving nighttime patrols and not conducting fire drills.
The burned hull of the Conception is hoisted to the surface by a salvage team (Picture: AP)
Jerry Boylan is seen outside Los Angeles Federal Courthouse on the first day of his trial (Picture: Meghann Cuniff / SplashNews.com)
Boylan was identified as the first person to abandon ship and leap overboard. He was later joined by four of his crew members.
All 33 passengers and one crew member died while they slept below deck as the fire raged. Investigators later determined all 34 people died from smoke inhalation.
Their bodies were later recovered from the ocean floor.
Boylan’s defense attorneys sought to place blame on the ship’s owner, Glen Fritzler, who they claimed created a lax company culture and never provided his crews with firefighting training.
Caption: Barbara Chan, whose brother Raymond “Scott” Chan was one of the victims of the fire, holds a composite photo of all 34 victims (Picture: AP)
Prosecutors argued that Boylan was ultimately at fault for the events that took place while he was captaining the vessel.
‘The captain is responsible for everything that happens on the ship, including, most importantly, the safety of everyone on board that ship,’ US Attorney Estrada said.
The jury eventually found Boylan guilty of failing numerous responsibilities, including establishing a night patrol, using any of the ship’s firefighting equipment, warning sleeping passengers with the ship’s PA system, and being the first to abandon ship.
‘This tragedy could have been avoided had Mr Boylan simply performed the duties he was entrusted to carry out,’ Estrada said. ‘We hope that today’s verdict brings some solace and closure to the victims’ loved ones.’
Boylan was convicted under the 1838 Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute, which was passed in order to hold steamboat captains accountable for maritime disasters.
Boylan’s sentencing is scheduled for February 8, 2024. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
The captain was found guilty of ‘seaman’s manslaughter’ after the deadly 2019 fire.