Conception boat fire: Captain charged with negligence again in 2019 fire that killed 34

The captain of a Santa Barbara-based boat that caught fire near Santa Cruz Island in 2019 was indicted by a grand jury once again Tuesday for his role in the blaze that killed 34.

Jerry Nehl Boylan, 68, caption of the Conception, was indicted for allegedly abandoning ship and other failures which the grand jury deemed "misconduct, gross negligence, and inattention to his duties." Boylan had been facing a charge of seaman's manslaugher earlier this year — to which he pleaded not guilty — but that charge was thrown out after U.S. District Judge George Wu said "gross negligence," not simply negligence, was required to prove that crime.

The Conception caught fire in the early morning hours of Sept. 2, 2019, during a Labor Day Weekend dive trip. The boat was docked in Platt's Harbor near Santa Cruz Island. Thirty-four people sleeping below deck — including 33 passengers and one crew member — were killed. Boylan and four other crew members were able to escape and jump into the water. 


Tuesday's indictment said Boylan failed his responsibilities as the ship's captain in several ways, including not having a night pathol on the boat; not training crew members or having enough fire drills; and not trying to rescue anyone on the boat. According to the indictment, Boylan had both a fire extinguisher and fire ax next to him in boat's wheelhouse while the fire raged on, but used neither. The indictment also said that Boylan could have used the ship's public address system to alert those on the boat of the fire, but didn't.

Instead, the complaint alleged that Boylan was the first person off the burning vessel, "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 indictment read.

Boylan will be arraigned on the new charge in U.S. District Court in the coming weeks. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.