Injury at Sea Logo white.

No Fee Unless You Win

Answered Live 24/7
by a Maritime Lawyer

Habla español

FREE Consultation - Call 24/7

Habla español

Maritime Injury News

4 Year Sentence For Captain In Dive Boat Fire That Killed 34 People

By Injury at Sea

On Thursday, May 2, 2024, a federal judge handed down a four-year sentence for the captain of the MV Conception, which burned and sank in 2019, resulting in the deaths of 34 people. Jerry Nehl Boylan faced up to 10 years in prison after being found guilty of one federal felony count of misconduct or neglect of a ship officer.

The Fire

On Labor Day Weekend of 2019, the MV Conception dive boat, captained by Jerry Nehl Boylan, 70, was anchored at Platts Harbor, off the coast of Santa Cruz, California. 33 passengers slept in bunks below deck, with five of the six-person crew in quarters above deck. Shortly after 3 a.m. a fire broke out on the main deck. The wooden-hulled boat was quickly engulfed in flames. Those below deck were trapped, and only the five crew above deck survived.

According to fire investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the fire originated in a plastic trash can under the stairs on deck. All 34 victims perished of smoke inhalation, investigators found, while the five crew members above deck, including Captain Boylan, abandoned ship. The incident was California’s most significant maritime incident since 1865, and was the United States’ deadliest transportation accident since 2009.

Criminal Negligence

The federal indictment alleged that Boylan “acted with a wanton or reckless disregard for human life by engaging in misconduct, gross negligence, and inattention to his duties on such vessel.” 

As Captain, Boylan was ultimately responsible for the safety of the passengers, crew, and vessel. Prosecutors accused Boylan of a number of failures in his responsibilities, including abandoning ship first, without attempting to fight the fire or giving the crew firefighting instructions, failing to have a night watch or patrol, not conducting fire drills or training the crew adequately, and ordering the crew to abandon ship without making any effort to fight the fire or alert the passengers and crewman below deck.

In the course of the investigation, it was found that while the boat did have smoke detectors, they were not centrally connected, and only located in the lower decks. Additionally, the single emergency escape hatch was partially obstructed by bunks, and insufficient to be the sole egress in case of a fire.

Captain Found Guilty

In 2023, a federal jury delivered a guilty verdict for the single charge of misconduct or neglect of a ship officer, colloquially referred to as “seaman’s manslaughter.” The pre-Civil War statute was originally conceived specifically to hold steamboat captains and crews responsible for maritime incidents.

“As the jury found, this tragedy could have been avoided had Mr. Boylan simply performed the duties he was entrusted to carry out,” US Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement at the time. “We hope that today’s verdict brings some solace and closure to the victims’ loved ones.”

The four-year sentence handed down this week will hopefully help the victims’ friends and families in healing after this tragedy.

Contact A Maritime Injury Attorney Today

Have you been injured in a maritime accident? Contact our maritime attorneys today and tell us your story. Our firm is headquartered in Seattle and has more than 80 years of combined experience representing clients located in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and California. Call us today at 1-800-SEA-SALT for a no-obligation assessment of your case.


The information contained in this update is provided for informational purposes only. Please contact your attorney to obtain advice on any particular legal matter.

No Fee Unless You Win

Answered Live 24/7
by a Maritime Lawyer

Scroll to Top