California dive boat captain indicted on multiple counts of manslaughter in connection with fire that left 34 dead

The Conception dive boat carried 33 passengers and six crewmembers. By Amir Vera and Sarah Moon, CNN

(CNN) -- The captain of the Conception dive boat, which went up in flames off the coast of California last year leaving 34 people dead, was indicted on Tuesday on 34 counts of seaman's manslaughter, the US Attorney's Office for the Central District of California said.

A federal grand jury alleges Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, "was responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew, and its passengers," according to a statement from US Attorney Nick Hanna's office.

The indictment alleges that Boylan caused the deaths of 34 people "by his misconduct, negligence, and inattention to his duties."

CNN has reached out to Boylan's attorneys, but has not heard back.

The Conception had 33 passengers and six crew members on board, prosecutors said in the statement. The 75-foot dive boat went up in flames early September 2, 2019, while anchored near Santa Cruz Island, about 20 miles off the California coast near Santa Barbara. Five crew members, including Boylan, were able to escape, while 33 passengers and one crew member who had been sleeping below deck died.

The flames might have been sparked by cellphones and batteries left charging overnight -- a tragedy that could have been prevented by a night watchman, National Transportation Safety Board investigators said in October.

Three safety violations were cited in the indictment, including failing to have a night watch or roving patrol, failing to conduct sufficient fire drills, and failing to conduct sufficient crew training.

"A pleasant holiday dive trip turned into a hellish nightmare as passengers and one crew member found themselves trapped in a fiery bunkroom with no means of escape," Hanna said in the statement. "The loss of life that day will forever impact the families of the 34 victims."

Each charge of seaman's manslaughter carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison, the statement said, adding that Boylan is expected to surrender to federal authorities in the coming weeks.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the Conception's location and state. The boat was anchored near Santa Cruz Island.

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