A federal grand jury indicted the captain of the dive boat Conception, which caught fire on Sept. 2 of last year off the coast of Santa Barbara, with 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter — one for each person killed in the conflagration.
The accident, which recently prompted new recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board, has gone down as one of the worst maritime disasters in recent U.S. history, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“As a result of the alleged failures of Capt. 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,” U.S. attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.
When announcing the charges, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles said that as the leader of the Labor Day tour, 67-year-old Jerry Boylan “was responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew, and its passengers,” the newspaper reported.
Investigators said Boylan neglected key safety precautions that had contributed to the deadliness of the fire — neglecting to conduct mandatory fire drills and crew training, and by failing to post a federally required night patrol, according to The New York Times.
If convicted, Boylan faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each count of seaman’s manslaughter, although defendants have typically served less time in custody.
James Adamic, whose sister, brother-in-law and niece were killed in the accident, told the Los Angeles Times he was glad Boylan had finally been indicted.
“It has to be done to hold someone accountable,” Adamic said. “But I hope it is a first step, as the owner needs to also be held accountable.”
The ship’s owner, Glen Fritzler and his company, Truth Aquatics, have been the subject of a multi-agency investigation.
The NTSB said vessels like the Conception that have overnight accommodations should be required to have interconnected smoke detectors in all passenger areas.
The board also recommended that a secondary means of escape lead to a different space than the primary exit in case fire blocks both escape paths, as was the case in disaster on board the dive boat.
The family of Charles McIlvain, who died aboard the Conception, renewed their call late Tuesday for Congress to pass the Small Passenger Vessel Safety Act. The bill includes stricter standards for fire alarm systems and requires no less than two escape routes from all areas used by passengers.