Jury Convicts Scuba Diving Vessel Captain of Manslaughter in Catastrophic Blaze

by Sophia Chen
seaman's manslaughter trial

On Monday, a jury delivered a guilty verdict against the captain of a scuba diving boat for his negligent role in the conflagration that claimed 34 lives aboard the vessel in 2019, marking the most severe peacetime maritime tragedy in modern American history.

The captain, Jerry Boylan, 69, was deemed culpable of misconduct or neglect by a ship’s officer after a federal trial lasting 10 days in Los Angeles. This judgment pertains to a longstanding maritime statute, often referred to as “seaman’s manslaughter,” established to enforce accountability on steamboat operators for seafaring calamities.

Boylan stands as the sole individual facing criminal charges in connection with the blaze and is subject to a maximum of a decade in prison at his sentencing on February 8, though the option for an appeal remains. Post-trial, his legal representatives elected not to issue a statement.

This legal resolution occurs over four years subsequent to the September 2, 2019, disaster, which instigated a revision of maritime policies, legislative overhaul, and numerous civil legal actions that are still in process.

Outside the courthouse, emotional scenes unfolded as family members of the deceased embraced and shed tears after the jury’s decision.

For Clark and Kathleen McIlvain, who lost their 44-year-old son Charles, the conviction brings a sense of justice. Clark McIlvain expressed relief that Boylan’s culpability has been recognized and adjudicated.

Federal prosecutors were met with applause and cheers by the families when they appeared outside the court to elaborate on the proceedings.

U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada, while addressing the media, stressed the captain’s ultimate responsibility for the safety of all persons on board, a duty which, according to Estrada, Boylan egregiously failed to uphold. Estrada, however, withheld comments on whether charges against the boat’s owners might follow.

The disaster occurred while the Conception was anchored off the coast of Santa Cruz Island, as the ship became engulfed in flames early in the morning on the concluding day of a three-day diving trip, eventually sinking close to the shoreline.

Trapped below deck in a bunkroom, thirty-three passengers and one crew member lost their lives. Victims included a deckhand on her dream job, an Antarctic researcher, a world-traveling couple, a Singaporean data analyst, and a family consisting of three sisters, their father, and his spouse.

Boylan was reportedly the first to evacuate and leap overboard, followed by four crew members who also survived.

Throughout the trial, both the prosecution and defense argued over the cause of the fire, which remains officially undetermined.

Prosecutors asserted that Boylan’s failure to maintain a required night watch and inadequate crew training in fire response allowed the fire to spread unchecked aboard the 75-foot boat.

Defense attorneys, conversely, directed fault towards Glen Fritzler and Truth Aquatics Inc., the boat operators, for not ensuring proper safety training and promoting a negligent maritime culture.

The Fritzlers have refrained from public comment since shortly after the incident, and their legal representatives did not respond to inquiries from The Big Big News, including those made on Monday.

Vicki Moore, who lost both her husband, Raymond “Scott” Chan, 59, and daughter Kendra Chan, 26, in the tragedy, felt the trial’s outcome delivered a clear message regarding the weight of responsibility carried by ship captains.

While the criminal proceedings have concluded, multiple civil litigations are still active.

In a bid to limit financial liability to the value of the destroyed vessel, Truth Aquatics quickly filed a legal action following the fire, invoking a maritime law dating back to pre-Civil War times. This law has historically been leveraged by shipowners like those of the Titanic to mitigate losses by demonstrating no fault on their part.

These cases remain unresolved, including those that accuse the Coast Guard of insufficiently enforcing safety regulations.

The Channel Islands, which attract numerous boaters, divers, and nature enthusiasts, include a national park encompassing five of the eight islands, with Santa Cruz being the largest and a prominent attraction within the park.

Contributing to this report was Christopher Weber of Big Big News.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about seaman’s manslaughter trial

What was the verdict in the trial of Captain Jerry Boylan?

Captain Jerry Boylan was found guilty of seaman’s manslaughter for the deaths of 34 people in a boat fire off the California coast in 2019.

Who is Captain Jerry Boylan?

Captain Jerry Boylan was the captain of the scuba diving boat Conception, where a fire led to the deaths of 34 people.

What charges did Jerry Boylan face?

Jerry Boylan faced charges of misconduct or neglect by a ship’s officer under a pre-Civil War statute known as seaman’s manslaughter.

What is the significance of the ‘seaman’s manslaughter’ statute?

The seaman’s manslaughter statute is a pre-Civil War law that holds ship captains and crew accountable for maritime disasters.

What is the potential sentence for Jerry Boylan?

Jerry Boylan could face up to 10 years in prison when sentenced on February 8, though he has the right to appeal.

What was the cause of the fire on the boat Conception?

The exact cause of the fire on the Conception remains undetermined, but it is believed to have spread undetected due to the lack of a required roving night watch.

What are the ongoing consequences of this maritime disaster?

The disaster has led to changes in maritime regulations, congressional reform, ongoing civil lawsuits, and discussions about the responsibilities of boat operators for the safety of their passengers and crew.

More about seaman’s manslaughter trial

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Peter Johnson November 7, 2023 - 9:35 am

can’t believe this is still happening, thought maritime safety had come a long way since Titanic and such

Anna Smith November 7, 2023 - 11:36 am

this is such a tragic story prayers for the families who lost their loved ones

Markus67 November 7, 2023 - 4:54 pm

jerry boyland had one job to keep his passengers safe, and he failed that’s on him

TommyGuitar November 7, 2023 - 5:36 pm

read about the trial, seems like there was a lot of finger-pointing but in the end, the captain goes down with the ship right

Linda_says November 7, 2023 - 6:05 pm

Regulatory changes are needed ASAP How many more have to die before real change is implemented

JustSaying November 7, 2023 - 10:19 pm

honestly ten years doesn’t seem enough for 34 lives, the justice system is broken


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