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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Federal Grand Jury Issues New Indictment in Conception Boat Fire

Captain Responsible for Safety on Dive Boat Charged in Indictment that Alleges Misconduct, Gross Negligence and Inattention to Duties in Deaths of 34 People

          LOS ANGELES – The captain of the P/V Conception – a Santa Barbara-based dive boat that caught fire near Santa Cruz Island in 2019, resulting in the deaths of 33 passengers and one crew member – was indicted today by a federal grand jury on a charge of misconduct or neglect of ship officer.

          The one-count indictment naming Jerry Nehl Boylan, 68, of Santa Barbara, alleges a series of failures and the abandoning of his ship, which constituted “misconduct, gross negligence, and inattention to his duties” and led to the deaths of 34 victims.

          The new indictment reinstates the charge against Boylan after a federal judge last month dismissed a previous indictment charging Boylan with the same offense because it did not allege gross negligence.

          The charge of misconduct or neglect of ship officer contained in the new indictment alleges that Boylan – who “was responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew, and its passengers” – failed his responsibilities in several ways, including by:

  • failing to have a night watch or roving patrol;
  • failing to conduct sufficient fire drills and crew training;
  • failing to provide firefighting instructions or directions to crewmembers after the fire started;
  • failing to use firefighting equipment, including a fire ax and fire extinguisher that were next to him in the wheelhouse, to fight the fire or attempt to rescue trapped passengers;
  • failing to “to perform any lifesaving or firefighting activities whatsoever at the time of the fire, even though he was uninjured”;
  • failing to use the boat’s public address system to warn passengers and crewmembers about the fire; and
  • becoming the first crewmember to abandon ship “even though 33 passengers and one crewmember were still alive and trapped below deck in the vessel’s bunkroom and in need of assistance to escape.”

          The Conception was a 75-foot, wood-and-fiberglass passenger vessel that docked in Santa Barbara Harbor. During a Labor Day weekend dive trip in 2019, the boat carried 33 passengers and six crew members, including Boylan. During the early morning hours of September 2, 2019, a fire broke out while the boat was anchored in Platt’s Harbor near Santa Cruz Island. The fire, which engulfed the boat and led to its sinking, resulted in the deaths of 34 people who had been sleeping below deck. Five crewmembers, including Boylan, were able to escape and survived.

          Boylan will be directed to appear in the coming weeks in United States District Court for an arraignment on the new indictment.

          The charge of misconduct or neglect of ship officer 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 FBI; the Coast Guard Investigative Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating this matter.

          Assistant United States Attorneys Mark A. Williams, chief of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section; Matthew W. O’Brien of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section; and Brian R. Faerstein of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section are prosecuting this case.

Contact: 
Thom Mrozek Director of Media Relations thom.mrozek@usdoj.gov (213) 894-6947
Press Release Number: 
22-220
Updated October 18, 2022