The captain of the P/V Conception, the scuba dive boat that sank after being engulfed in flames last year off the coast of California, has been indicted by a federal grand jury for more than two dozen counts of seaman’s manslaughter.
The U.S. attorney's office announced the charges on Tuesday.
Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, was found responsible "for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew, and its passengers."
Last year, 33 passengers and one crew member died when a fire broke out on the 75-foot, wood-and-fiberglass passenger vessel on September 2, 2019. The Labor Day weekend excursion had a total of 33 passengers and six crew members, including Boylan.
The fire broke out while the boat was docked at Platt’s Harbor near Santa Cruz Island. While Boylan and four other crew members were able to escape, but the rest of the people on board died in the blaze, which caused the vessel to sink.
The indictment blames Boylan for the 34 deaths "by his misconduct, negligence, and inattention to his duties."
The press release accuses Boylan of failing to have a night watch or roving patrol and failing to conduct sufficient fire drills and crew training — all of which are required by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
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U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement Tuesday, "as a result of the alleged failures of Captain Boylan to follow well-established safety rules, a pleasant holiday dive trip turned into a hellish nightmare as passengers and one crew member found themselves trapped in a fiery bunkroom with no means of escape."
"The loss of life that day will forever impact the families of the 34 victims," Hanna continued. "With this indictment and our commitment to vigorously prosecute the case, we seek a small measure of justice for the victims and their loved ones."
Each charge of seaman's manslaughter carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison, the press release stated. The FBI, Coast Guard Investigative Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are continuing to investigate.
Boylan is expected to self-surrender to federal authorities, the U.S. Attorney's office said. His lawyers could not be immediately located by PEOPLE.
According to ABC News, the families of 32 of the victims have filed civil suits against the boat's owners.
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