Captain of Submersible Conception Sentenced to Four Years for Fatal Fire

The commercial dive boat Conception at sunrise prior to sinking, September 2, 2019. (Source: Ventura County Fire Department)
In 2019, the captain of the submersible Conception was sentenced to four years in prison for the tragic fire that claimed the lives of 34 people off the California coast. Jerry Nehl Boylan, 69, was found guilty of “sailor manslaughter” for his role in the disaster. The National Transportation Safety Board cited poor oversight by the ship's owner as a contributing factor to the tragedy.
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The captain of the submersible Conception, Jerry Nehl Boylan, was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the tragic fire that engulfed the ship off the California coast in 2019, resulting in the deaths of 34 people. Boylan, 69, was convicted of “sailor manslaughter” for his mistakes that led to the disaster, including failing to rescue passengers and properly handle the situation. The fire occurred while the Conception was anchored near Santa Cruz Island, with only five crew members managing to escape.

During a 10-day trial, evidence showed that Boylan had breached his duties as captain by neglecting important safety measures such as night patrols, fire drills, and firefighting equipment. His defense argued that the ship’s owner, Truth Aquatics, Inc., also shared responsibility for the tragedy by not providing adequate oversight of the vessel and crew operations. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the lack of proper smoke detection and emergency egress arrangements contributed to the high loss of life in this incident.

The jury ultimately found Boylan guilty of causing the deaths of the Conception passengers due to his errors and lack of proper response to the fire. The tragic event shed light on the importance of following safety protocols and having effective oversight in maritime operations to prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future. The NTSB’s investigation highlighted the need for improved safety measures on passenger ships to ensure the well-being of both passengers and crew members.

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