Scuba Boat Captain Gets 4 Years

34 people died in Conception fire off California coast
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 2, 2024 5:20 PM CDT
Scuba Boat Captain Gets 4 Years
Defendant Jerry Boylan, captain of the Conception, right, arrives at federal court in Los Angeles in October 2023.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a scuba dive boat captain to four years in custody and three years supervised release for criminal negligence after 34 people died in a fire aboard the vessel. The Sept. 2, 2019, blaze was the deadliest maritime disaster in recent US history and prompted changes to maritime regulations, congressional reform, and several ongoing lawsuits. Captain Jerry Boylan was found guilty of one count of misconduct or neglect of ship officer last year, the AP reports. The charge is a pre-Civil War statute colloquially known as seaman's manslaughter. It was designed to hold steamboat captains and crew responsible for maritime disasters.

Boylan's appeal is ongoing. He faced up to 10 years behind bars. The defense had asked the judge to sentence Boylan to a five-year probationary sentence, with three years to be served under house arrest. "While the loss of life here is staggering, there can be no dispute that Mr. Boylan did not intend for anyone to die," his attorneys wrote in a sentencing memo. "Indeed, Mr. Boylan lives with significant grief, remorse, and trauma as a result of the deaths of his passengers and crew." The Conception was anchored off Santa Cruz Island, 25 miles south of Santa Barbara, when it caught fire before dawn on the final day of a three-day excursion, sinking less than 100 feet from shore.

Thirty-three passengers and a crew member died, trapped in a bunkroom below deck. Among the dead were the deckhand who had landed her dream job; an environmental scientist who conducted research in Antarctica; a globetrotting couple; a Singaporean data scientist; and a family of three sisters, their father, and his wife. Boylan was the first to abandon ship and jump overboard, per the AP. Four crew members who joined him also survived. Thursday's sentencing was the final step in a fraught prosecution that lasted nearly five years and repeatedly frustrated the victims' families.

(More Conception dive boat stories.)

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