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Dive boat captain charged over deadly fire

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A firefighter watches as the boat burns. Photo: Getty
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The captain of a dive boat that caught fire and sank off the California coast in 2019, killing 34 people in one of the state’s deadliest maritime disasters, has been indicted on federal manslaughter charges.

Each of the 34 seaman’s manslaughter counts returned against Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, of Santa Barbara, carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years’ prison if he is convicted, according to a statement from the US Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

The indictment accuses Boylan of causing the deaths of the 33 passengers and one crew member who perished “by his misconduct, negligence, and inattention to his duties,” the prosecutors’ statement said.

The grand jury cited several safety violations, including the failure to assign a night watch or roving patrol aboard the boat, as required, and a failure to conduct sufficient crew training.

The victims had been sleeping below deck aboard the 23-metre Conception when the vessel went up in flames in the early on September 2 while anchored in Platts Harbour near Santa Cruz Island, off the Santa Barbara coast.

The five surviving crew members, including Captain Boylan, had been above deck in berths behind the wheelhouse and escaped by leaping overboard as the burning boat sank into the Pacific.

They told investigators that flames coming from the passenger quarters were too intense for them to save those trapped below deck.

Coroner investigators determined that the victims died of smoke inhalation.

Neither Captain Boylan nor any legal representative was immediately available for comment.