California dive boat captain jailed over fire that killed 34 people

Defendant Jerry Boylan (centre), captain of the Conception, leaves federal court in Los Angeles (AP)
Defendant Jerry Boylan (centre), captain of the Conception, leaves federal court in Los Angeles (AP)

A California dive boat captain has been jailed for four years after a fire that killed 34 people.

The blaze in September 2019 was the deadliest recent maritime disaster in US history, leading to changes in maritime regulations, congressional reform and several lawsuits.

Jerry Boylan, 69, was also sentenced to three years supervised release by a federal judge in Los Angeles, California, after he was found guilty of one count of misconduct or neglect of ship officer.

The defense had asked the federal judge to sentence Boylan to a five-year probationary sentence, with three years to be served under house arrest.

“While the loss of life here is staggering, there can be no dispute that Mr Boylan did not intend for anyone to die,” his attorneys wrote in a sentencing memo.

“Indeed, Mr Boylan lives with significant grief, remorse, and trauma as a result of the deaths of his passengers and crew.”

Family members of the victims stood holding photographs of their loved ones outside court in Los Angeles on Thursday.


Before dawn on the final day of a three-day voyage, the Conception caught fire while anchored 25 miles south of Santa Barbara, off Santa Cruz Island, and sank less than 30 metres from the shore.

Thirty-three passengers and one crew member, trapped below deck, died.

The victims included an environmental scientist, a Singaporean data scientist and a family of three sisters, their father and his wife.

Boylan jumped overboard, and four crew members who followed suit also survived.

Boylan initially faced 34 counts of seaman's manslaughter, which could have led to a maximum sentence of 340 years.

His lawyers argued that the deaths resulted from a single incident rather than separate crimes, leading prosecutors to charge him with only one count.

Although the criminal case has concluded, several lawsuits are still ongoing.