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Captain Sentenced to 4 Years for Fatal Boat Fire

VENTURA— The conclusion of a long-awaited legal saga unfolded in early May as Jerry Boylan, the captain of the ill-fated scuba dive boat Conception, received a four-year federal prison sentence for his role in the 2019 tragedy off the California coast that claimed the lives of 34 individuals. The Department of Justice confirmed Boylan’s sentencing following a federal jury’s verdict of guilty on seaman’s manslaughter charges in November.

The incident occurred on Sept. 2, 2019, when the Conception, helmed by Boylan, was engulfed in flames while docked at Platt’s Harbor near Santa Cruz Island during a routine scuba diving expedition. The fire took place in the early morning hours, catching passengers and crew members unaware as they slept. While Boylan and four crew members managed to leap overboard and survive, one crew member and 33 passengers perished in the inferno.

U.S. District Judge George Wu sentenced Boylan after considering over a dozen victim impact statements. As reported by ABC Los Angeles station KABC, in addition to the four-year prison term, Boylan faces three years of supervised release. A restitution hearing is slated for July 11, and Boylan was ordered to surrender shortly thereafter to begin his prison term.

Following the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada issued a statement condemning Boylan’s actions, labeling them as “cowardice and repeated failures” that led to the “horrific deaths of 34 people.” Estrada expressed hope that holding Boylan criminally accountable would offer some solace to the grieving families.

In 2020 a federal grand jury indicted Boylan on 34 counts of misconduct or neglect of ship officer, with each carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Despite facing the possibility of 340 years behind bars, Boylan was ultimately charged with a single count of seaman’s manslaughter, underscoring the intricacies of the legal proceedings.

During the sentencing hearing, family members of the victims advocated for the maximum penalty, expressing disappointment with the four-year sentence. Kathleen McIlvain, the mother of victim Charles McIlvain, voiced her family’s anguish, emphasizing the irreplaceable loss of their son.

Federal prosecutors echoed the sentiment, urging the court to impose the maximum sentence, citing Boylan’s recklessness and failure to prioritize safety measures. Prosecutors highlighted his alleged lack of remorse and his purported abandonment of the vessel during the fire, emphasizing his role in the tragic outcome.

In his defense, Boylan’s attorneys argued for leniency, citing his age, along with health issues and emotional distress he’s suffered since the accident. They disputed the prosecution’s portrayal of Boylan as callous, presenting him as a victim of circumstance deeply affected by the incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report cited failure on the part of the Conception’s owner and operator, Truth Aquatics (the live-aboard dive fleet moored in Santa Barbara), as the probable cause of the accident, noting deficiencies in vessel oversight and safety protocols. Despite these findings, Boylan ultimately faced accountability for his role in the maritime disaster, serving as a cautionary tale of the grave consequences of negligence at sea.

The owner of Truth Aquatics, Glen Fritzler, has not commented on the NTSB report or Boylan’s case.


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One thought on “Captain Sentenced to 4 Years for Fatal Boat Fire

  • While I agree that the Conception’s Captain ignored his responsibility, one can not ignore that this Coast Guard inspected vessel was apparently a compliant fire trap.

    You can not kill 34 people in a fire in the United States today because a prudent complement of egress and detection are evaluated, scrutinized and then mandated by the appropriate regulators.

    The Conception was inspected and found to be compliant with the applicable Coast Guard fire protection requirements. Egress and detection are measurable fire protection staples but the Coast Guard does a very, very poor job here.

    “Smoke Detectors Save Lives!” Someone should tell the Coast Guard!



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