Federal Grand Jury Issues New Indictment in Conception Boat Fire

By the Department of Justice

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.

Jerry Boylan (Photo: Truth Aquatics)

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.

Related Articles

 All Previous Conception Fire articles can be found here.


Written by Anonymous

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  1. Glad he was indicted. The fact that he escaped first without even trying to help the passengers trapped beneath is incomprehensible. I can’t imagine the hell their families have gone through knowing that, much less what the passengers themselves suffered. And to think, my son and his friend and his dad took a trip on that Dive Boat a few years before that when he was a teen. I’m overly protective but totally trusted the Captain. Makes me shudder to think about it.

  2. easy to sit in your chair and judge and make comments, but if you were not there, or part of the investigation, your words are just an opinion and nothing more than that. Very easy to look back in hindsight and say this or that or woulda shoulda coulda. You don’t know what was going on at the time they awoke to flames. Panic sets in. Things happen on the fly especially when you’re asleep, groggy, and there is a raging fire underway. Humans panic. It’s our nature to do so. I can’t comment on some of the accusations and charges, but this is just a prosecutor going for another win. It’s not about the families, the lives, including Jerry’s. It’s about a prosecutor needing a win.
    Jerry was tried already. You don’t think he lives in extreme torment and guilt? Stop judging for a minute and think. Be a human and think. I’m not defending anyone or anything, aside of saying, if you were not there or part of the investigation, you know little. I know people involved. I don’t know much, but maybe a tiny bit more than the general public. This is a historical tragedy. What is the point of smearing Jerry further into the ground? He needs to be held accountable! He already has, as did the owners. Held accountable. So putting a 70 year old man in prison for this is going to do what? What will this actually accomplish? Nothing. It will not reverse what happened. It will not bring back lives. It will not. I know this topic is sensitive and I am deeply sorry for every loss that happened that terrible evening. I’m not making light of this either. I say a prayer for them everytime i’m at the Landing or the breakwater.

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