The captain of a dive boat that caught fire off the coast of Southern California in 2019, killing all 33 passengers and one of its six crew members, was found guilty by a federal jury on Monday on one count of an offense known as “seaman’s manslaughter.”
When the commercial scuba diving vessel, the Conception, caught fire in a harbor near Santa Cruz Island early on the morning of Sept. 2, 2019, all the passengers were sleeping below deck. Prosecutors say the captain, Jerry Nehl Boylan, successfully escaped, along with four members of the crew, without trying to help them.
Mr. Boylan failed to carry out his duties as a ship officer in part by “failing to perform any lifesaving or firefighting activities whatsoever at the time of the fire, even though he was uninjured,” the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a news release on Monday that announced the conviction.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for February, the release said. Mr. Boylan could face up to 10 years in prison.
Mr. Boylan was charged under a 19th-century law that was instituted as a response to deaths aboard steamships. He pleaded not guilty, and a public defender representing him, Georgina Wakefield, argued in court last month that the boat’s owner was to blame for the accident. Ms. Wakefield did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday.
Mr. Boylan is the only person who has faced criminal charges connected to the fire, The Associated Press reported on Monday.
The National Transportation Safety Board said in 2020 that the lack of a required night patrol aboard the boat, along with a lack of smoke detectors, had delayed the response to the fire and contributed to the high death toll. The agency said the cause of the fire could not be determined.
Mr. Boylan was indicted by a federal grand jury that year on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter. A federal judge in Los Angeles later dismissed the indictment, saying that it failed to allege “gross negligence.”
A new, one-count indictment reinstated the charge in October 2022, stating that Mr. Boylan’s behavior during the fire had amounted to “misconduct, gross negligence and inattention to his duties.” A jury in Los Angeles found him guilty of that charge on Monday.