A scuba dive boat captain has been found guilty of criminal negligence in the deaths of 34 people who lost their lives in a tragic fire aboard the vessel in 2019, marking the deadliest maritime disaster in recent U.S. history. Jerry Boylan, the captain of the Conception, was charged with one count of misconduct or neglect of a ship officer, a statute intended to hold those responsible for maritime disasters, and he now faces the possibility of spending up to 10 years in prison.
The verdict, delivered by a federal jury, brings some closure to the grieving families who have eagerly awaited accountability for their loved ones’ deaths. Outside the courtroom, tears and embraces from relatives of the victims expressed their relief that justice had been served. This guilty verdict comes more than four years after the tragedy.
The Conception was anchored near Santa Cruz Island when the fire broke out. Thirty-three passengers and one crew member were trapped in a bunkroom below deck and did not survive. Boylan, along with four crew members, managed to escape by jumping overboard. The cause of the blaze still remains unknown, but the trial saw both the prosecution and defense exchange blame for the tragedy.
Prosecutors argued that Boylan failed to fulfill his responsibilities as captain and neglected crucial safety measures, such as not posting a roving night watch or adequately training his crew in firefighting. Boylan’s defense focused on placing blame on boat owner Glen Fritzler, accusing him of fostering a lax safety culture and failing to provide proper training.
While the exact cause of the fire may never be determined, the guilty verdict serves as a solemn reminder of the importance of maritime safety protocols and the accountability that accompanies the responsibility of being a ship officer. The legacy of the victims who lost their lives on that fateful day will endure in the reforms and changes brought forth by their tragic loss.
Boylan’s sentencing is scheduled for February 8, and he could face up to 10 years in prison. He was the only person criminally charged in relation to the fire. Following the tragedy, there have been notable changes to maritime regulations, efforts for congressional reform, and civil lawsuits seeking justice for the victims and their families. This incident will forever be etched in history as the deadliest maritime disaster in recent U.S. history.