Skipper of Ill-fated Boat Indicted on 34 Counts of Seaman’s Manslaughter
Photo: Jerry Nehl Boylan
December 3, 2020 – Santa Barbara County, Ca.
When the Santa Barbara-based recreational scuba diving boat “Conception” set sail on the afternoon with a full complement of passengers on the afternoon of September 1, 2019, none of the nearly 40 people on board anticipated that by sunrise the next morning 34 of them would be dead.
After a year-long rigorously detailed forensic investigation by local, state, and federal authorities into the facts leading up to the fire aboard the Conception while anchored at Santa Cruz Island, on December 1st federal prosecutors issued an indictment and arrest warrant for the boat’s captain, 67-year-old Santa Barbara resident Jerry Nehl Boylan in which he now stands charged with 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter.
According to U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna, Boylan “failed to follow well-established safety rules” by not posting a night watchman while passengers slept in double-bunks below decks on the night of September 1 st , 2019. When fire broke out in the bunk room, Boylan and his five crew members were “asleep in their bunks on the upper deck,” and awakened to discover the boat
fully engulfed in flames. The crew could neither extinguish the flames “and they could not reach people below deck,” all of whom perished.
While the cause of the fire remains under investigation, official concluded that Boylan, as captain of the vessel, failed to provide safety oversight on that fatal night.
Seaman’s manslaughter is a law dating back to the 19 th Century rash of steamboat accidents, with a threshold of criminal liability distinguished from common law in that the charge only requires an act of simple negligence absent of malice or intent. Each charge filed against Boylan carries a potential sentence of 10 years.
Photos: Courtesy Ventura County Fire Department, Truth Aquatics