Los Angeles, CA – May 3, 2024

A federal judge in Los Angeles sentenced Jerry Boylan, the captain of the scuba diving vessel Conception, to four years in prison and three years of supervised release for criminal negligence. The sentencing comes after a 2019 fire on board the Conception tragically claimed the lives of 34 people.

The Conception fire, which ignited on September 2nd, 2019,  stands as the deadliest maritime disaster in recent U.S. history. The blaze prompted significant changes to maritime safety regulations, congressional reform efforts, and several ongoing lawsuits.

Conviction and Legal Battles

Captain Boylan was found guilty on one count of misconduct or neglect of a ship’s officer in November 2023. The charge stemmed from a pre-Civil War statute known as “seaman’s manslaughter.”

Prosecutors initially indicted Boylan in 2020 on 34 separate counts of seaman’s manslaughter, potentially leading to a 340-year sentence. However, Boylan’s defense argued the deaths stemmed from a single incident, not individual crimes. This resulted in a revised indictment with a single count.

Further legal wrangling ensued in 2022 when the judge dismissed the revised indictment due to a lack of evidence demonstrating Boylan’s actions constituted “gross negligence.” Prosecutors then successfully obtained a new indictment before the case reached its final sentencing.

Aftermath and Reforms

The Conception fire’s horrific consequences spurred significant safety improvements in the commercial diving industry. New regulations mandated stricter fire watch procedures, upgraded fire alarm systems, and improved escape routes on dive vessels.

The tragedy also led to congressional efforts aimed at bolstering maritime safety measures. These efforts are still ongoing.

The families of the victims continue to seek justice through civil lawsuits against the Conception’s owner and other parties involved.

While Captain Boylan’s sentence brings a measure of closure, the loss of 34 lives remains a stark reminder of the importance of prioritizing safety in all maritime operations.

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