The captain of a scuba diving boat that sank during a fire in 2019, killing 34, has been found criminally negligent by a jury in California. Jerry Boylan (pictured), 69, was convicted on Monday for his role in the deadliest maritime disaster in recent U.S. history. Boylan was found to have jumped to his safety as the boat – the Conception – sank off Santa Barbara in a pre-dawn fire, leaving tourists and crew trapped below deck.
Boylan, the only person criminally charged, was found guilty of one count of misconduct or neglect of ship officer, a pre-Civil War statute colloquially known as ‘seaman’s manslaughter’ that was designed to hold steamboat captains and crew responsible for maritime disasters. He could get 10 years behind bars.
The sinking of the Conception prompted changes to maritime regulations, congressional reform and civil lawsuits. The boat, on its final night of a three-night scuba diving trip, was anchored off the Channel Islands, 25 miles south of Santa Barbara. Conception sank less than 100 feet from shore. Among the dead were the deckhand, who had landed her dream job; an environmental scientist who did research in Antarctica; a globe-trotting couple; a Singaporean data scientist; and a family of three sisters, their father and his wife. Boylan was the first to abandon ship and jump overboard. Four crew members who joined him also survived. Although the exact cause of the blaze remains undetermined, the prosecutors and defense sought to assign blame throughout the trial.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Boylan failed to post the required roving night watch and never properly trained his crew in firefighting. The lack of the roving watch meant the fire was able to spread undetected across the 75-foot boat. Boylan’s attorneys sought to pin blame on boat owner Glen Fritzler, who, with his wife, owns Truth Aquatics Inc., which operated the Conception and two other scuba dive boats. They argued that Fritzler was responsible for failing to train the crew in firefighting and other safety measures, as well as creating a lax seafaring culture they called ‘the Fritzler way,’ in which no captain who worked for him posted a roving watch. Two to three dozen family members of the victims attended each day of the trial in downtown Los Angeles.
U.S. District Court Judge George Wu warned them against displaying emotion in the courtroom as they watched a 24-second cellphone video showing some of their loved ones’ last moments. While the criminal trial is over, several civil lawsuits remain ongoing. Three days after the blaze, Truth Aquatics filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under a pre-Civil War provision of maritime law that allows it to limit its liability to the value of the remains of the boat, which was a total loss. The time-tested legal maneuver has been successfully employed by the owners of the Titanic and other vessels and requires the Fritzlers to show they were not at fault.
That case is pending, as well as others filed by victims’ families against the Coast Guard for alleged lax enforcement of the roving watch requirement. ‘The past four years have been like living in a nightmare that you don’t wake up from,’ said Kathleen McIlvain, whose 44-year-old son Charles (pictured left) died in the tragedy. Even though the fire happened in the middle of the night – some of the dead were wearing shoes, prompting investigators to believe they were awake and trying to escape.
Both exits from the below-deck bunk room were blocked by flames. Coroners’ reports listed smoke inhalation as the cause of death, though official autopsies were never conducted. The trial was prolonged with setbacks when Judge Wu ruled in 2022 that the superseding indictment failed to specify that Boylan, which is a required element to prove the crime of seaman’s manslaughter. He dismissed that indictment, forcing prosecutors to go before a grand jury again.
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Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk