Conception boat fire: New charges against submersible captain alleging negligence in 2019 SoCal tragedy

LOS ANGELES — A federal jury on Tuesday issued new indictments against a submersible captain alleging he acted with gross negligence when a fire aboard his ship killed 34 people off the coast of Southern California in 2019.

The new indictment comes more than a month after a judge threw out the original case for failing to state that Captain Jerry Boylan acted with gross negligence aboard the Conception during one of the deadliest maritime disasters in recent US history.

Boylan, 68, faces a single count of misconduct or neglect by a ship’s officer, a pre-Civil War law colloquially known as “sailor’s murder,” designed to blame steamboat captains and crew for maritime disasters . He faces 10 years in prison and is expected to be charged in the coming weeks. His federal public defenders did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Families of 11 victims praised the new charges against Boylan.

“This tragedy was totally avoidable and due to his carelessness and inaction, 34 people lost their lives and our lives were changed forever,” the families said in a statement.

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The Conception burst into flames near an island off the coast of Santa Barbara on September 2, 2019. All 33 passengers and one crew member, trapped in a dormitory below deck, died. Boylan and four other crew members escaped.

Tuesday’s indictment alleges that Boylan “acted with wanton or reckless disregard for human life by engaging in misconduct, gross negligence and inattention to his duties.” He is accused of failing to train his crew, conduct fire drills and post a roving night watchman on the boat when the fire broke out.

Though federal safety investigators never found the cause of the fire, officials charged the ship’s owners, Truth Aquatics Inc., with a lack of oversight, though they were not charged with a felony.

Truth Aquatics sued in federal court under a maritime law provision to avoid paying out to the victims’ families. Family members of the dead have filed claims against boat owners Glen and Dana Fritzler and the company, and are suing the US Coast Guard.

Lawyers representing 4 families of victims killed in Conception boat disaster blame the owner, the captain

Boylan was originally charged in 2020 with 34 counts of misconduct or neglect by a ship’s officer – what the original indictment called manslaughter of a seaman – each facing a possible 10-year sentence if convicted. Defense attorneys tried to dismiss those charges, arguing the deaths were the result of a single incident and not separate crimes.

Before this matter could go to court, prosecutors obtained a replacement indictment this summer charging Boylan with only one count, alleging his negligence caused all 34 deaths. If convicted, he would have faced a maximum of 10 years in prison.

But in September, on the third anniversary of the tragedy, US District Judge George Wu said the prosecution failed to mention gross negligence, which he said was a necessary element in proving the crime of manslaughter by seafarers.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. Conception boat fire: New charges against submersible captain alleging negligence in 2019 SoCal tragedy

Laura Coffey

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