Scuba Dive Boat Captain Faces Sentencing in Deadly Fire Case: Details Explained

Scuba Dive Boat Captain Faces Sentencing in Deadly Fire Case: Details Explained

A scuba dive boat captain is set to be sentenced by a federal judge on a charge of criminal negligence following a fire that claimed the lives of 34 people aboard the vessel nearly five years ago. The blaze, which occurred on September 2, 2019, was the deadliest maritime disaster in recent U.S. history, leading to changes in maritime regulations, congressional reform, and ongoing lawsuits.

Scuba Dive Boat Captain Faces Sentencing in Deadly Fire Case: Details Explained

Captain Jerry Boylan was convicted of one count of misconduct or neglect of a ship officer last year. The charge, known as seaman’s manslaughter, is a pre-Civil War statute aimed at holding steamboat captains and crew accountable for maritime disasters. Boylan’s appeal is ongoing, and he faces a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

In a sentencing memo, Boylan’s defense has requested a five-year probationary sentence, with three years to be served under house arrest. His attorneys emphasized that Boylan did not intend for anyone to die, and he experiences significant grief, remorse, and trauma due to the loss of his passengers and crew.

The incident occurred when the Conception, anchored off Santa Cruz Island, caught fire before dawn on the final day of a three-day excursion, sinking close to shore. Thirty-three passengers and a crew member died, trapped in a bunkroom below deck. Among the victims were individuals such as a deckhand, an environmental scientist, a globe-trotting couple, a Singaporean data scientist, and a family of three sisters, their father, and his wife.

Boylan was the first to abandon ship and jump overboard, along with four crew members who also survived. The sentencing, unless Boylan’s appeal is successful, marks the culmination of a lengthy prosecution that has spanned nearly five years, frustrating the families of the victims.

Initially indicted on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter in 2020, Boylan’s charges were later reduced to one count in a superseding indictment. However, in 2022, the superseding indictment was dismissed for failing to specify that Boylan acted with gross negligence, leading prosecutors to seek a new indictment.

While the exact cause of the blaze remains undetermined, the prosecution and defense sought to assign blame during the trial. The government argued that Boylan failed to post the required roving night watch and inadequately trained his crew in firefighting, allowing the fire to spread unchecked. Boylan’s attorneys, however, sought to shift blame to Glen Fritzler, the owner of Truth Aquatics Inc., which operated the Conception, alleging that Fritzler failed to train the crew and created a lax safety culture.

With the conclusion of the criminal case, attention has turned to several ongoing lawsuits, including one filed by Truth Aquatics seeking to limit its liability under maritime law to the value of the remains of the boat. Additionally, victims’ families have filed lawsuits against the Coast Guard, alleging lax enforcement of safety regulations.

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