New indictment lodged against Santa Barbara ship captain

October 18, 2022


The captain of the Santa Barbara-based dive boat that burst into flames in 2019, killing 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 alleges Jerry Nehl Boylan, 68, caused a series of failures and the abandoning of his ship. Boylan’s alleged“misconduct, gross negligence, and inattention to his duties” led to the deaths of 34 victims, according to the indictment.

Last month, a federal judge 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, a 75-foot commercial diving vessel, was anchored off the north side of Santa Cruz Island for a weekend diving excursion. During the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2019, a fire engulfed the boat and led to its sinking, resulted in the deaths of 34 people who had been sleeping below deck. Five crew members, including Boylan, were able to escape and survived.

The charge of misconduct or neglect of ship officer carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Maritime law is different than State law it comes from a time when you were expected to execute your duties in an honorable way. The Master of a vessel is responsible for crew and passengers and will be held so. Unlike our public officials and law enforcement who are seldom held responsible for their actions or inactions today.

There is ZERO OBLIGATION for anyone to “perform lifesaving” in dire circumstances. Remember that and take those risks into consideration. The responsibility is yours. Know what you’re getting into beforehand. “Innocent of all charges” ensuing.

Zero for you but not so for a captain.

So liability waivers are just useless pieces of paper? Doubtful.

We suspect you’re not familiar with maritime law.

Abandon ship and 34 people, get 107 days in jail per person. Sad.