(TheProudRepublic.com) – A veteran scuba dive boat captain has been convicted of severe negligence after his ship burned down, killing 34 people in 2019, marking the deadliest such incident in recent American history, as reported by The Associated Press.
Jerry Boylan, aged 69, was held accountable under an old maritime law, the seaman’s manslaughter statute, intended to impose responsibility on steamboat captains and crews for onboard disasters.
The incident involved the vessel Conception, under Boylan’s command, which was consumed by fire in the early hours of September 2, 2019, during a three-day diving trip near Santa Cruz Island.
During the Labor Day disaster, flames engulfed the only exit from the below-deck bunk room where 33 passengers and one crew member were sleeping, ultimately trapping them.
The prosecution argued that Boylan’s 34-year experience did not exempt his failure to establish a night watch or adequately prepare his crew for fire emergencies, as The Los Angeles Times detailed.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office criticized the absence of a roving watch, which allowed the fire to spread unnoticed on the 75-foot boat. The ensuing chaos revealed the crew’s lack of preparedness, with a crew member missing the opportunity to use a nearby fire hose.
Boylan, who was asleep at the onset of the fire, managed to send a mayday call and escape the vessel, a move prosecutors equated to abandoning his ship. Four other crew members also survived the ordeal.
Despite the unresolved cause of the fire, suspected to have started in a trash receptacle, Boylan is the sole individual facing charges. His potential sentence could reach ten years in prison, with a sentencing date set for February 8. Boylan’s defense attorneys refrained from commenting post-trial.
U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada emphatically stated that Boylan “failed, utterly failed” in his responsibilities, stressing the captain’s duty to ensure passenger and crew safety.
The tragedy also took the lives of individuals ranging from a deckhand who had just secured her ideal job to a family of five, highlighting the huge losses behind the legal proceedings.
Relatives of the victims expressed relief and a sense of closure outside the courtroom following the conviction, with Susana Rosas, who lost three daughters and her ex-husband in the fire, expressing a sentiment of moving forward.