The federal trial for Jerry Boylan, the captain of the Conception dive boat that caught fire and sank off the Southern California coast in 2019, resulting in the deaths of 34 people, is set to begin with jury selection in Los Angeles. The tragedy, which occurred on Labor Day in 2019, led to changes in maritime regulations, congressional reform, and civil lawsuits. The families of the victims have expressed frustration over a judge’s ruling that their loved ones should not be referred to as “victims” during the trial.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held Boylan responsible for the incident, stating that his failure to post a roving night watchman allowed the fire to spread undetected. The passengers and crew members were trapped below deck, and the cause of death was determined to be smoke inhalation.
Boylan initially faced 34 counts of “seaman’s manslaughter,” but defense lawyers argued that the deaths were the result of a single incident and not separate crimes. The charges were dismissed, and Boylan is now charged with one count of misconduct or neglect of a ship officer, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted.
The cause of the fire remains unknown, although early scrutiny focused on a spot where divers plugged in electronics. The Coast Guard was faulted by the NTSB for not enforcing the requirement of having a roving patrol on boats with overnight passengers. As a result, new regulations regarding fire detection systems, extinguishers, escape routes, and other safety measures have been implemented.
The families of the victims formed a group called “Advocacy34” to advocate for stronger boating regulations. They have also filed civil suits, including one against the Coast Guard. The owners of the Conception, Glen and Dana Fritzler, have filed a lawsuit under a maritime law provision that allows them to limit their liability to the remains of the boat.
The trial will provide an opportunity for the families of the victims to seek answers and closure, although the exact cause of the fire may never be determined.