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California boat captain charged with manslaughter in fire that killed 34 people

The captain of a dive boat that caught fire off the coast of California last year, killing 34 people, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 34 counts of manslaughter of a sailor on Tuesday.

Investigators said Captain Jerry Boylan, 67, neglected key safety precautions and this contributed to the death of the blaze. According to the indictment, Mr. Boylan did not conduct mandatory fire drills and training for the crew, and he did not post a mandatory night watch or patrol at the federal level.

“A pleasurable vacation diving trip turned into a hellish nightmare as passengers and a crew member found themselves trapped in a fiery locker room with no way to escape,” said US lawyer Nick Hanna in a press release.

Mr. Boylan is expected to surrender to federal authorities in the coming weeks; two public defenders representing him could not be reached immediately for comment. Each charge of manslaughter of a seafarer carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.

The 33 passengers aboard the Conception, a 75-foot commercial scuba diving vessel, were sleeping below deck when the fire started on a Labor Day weekend excursion to the Channel Islands , a national park south of Santa Barbara. Drawings of the boat showed there was only one exit to the galley, and the deaths were attributed to smoke inhalation.

Mr Boylan told investigators he was awakened by the crew and was able to call the Coast Guard before jumping overboard. Five of the six crew members escaped.

The boat, which was operated by Truth Aquatics, eventually sank north of Santa Cruz Island. It had been in service since 1981.

“This tragedy changed the lives of so many families and loved ones forever, and it deeply affected members of the public who watched in horror,” said Kristi K. Johnson, deputy director in charge of the FBI field office in Los Angeles.

Shortly after the fire, a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board stated that the five crew members sleeping on the terrace were unable to reach the galley due to a fire at one end and a thick smoke to each other.

After jumping overboard due to the unsafe conditions, the report said, the captain and two other people swam and climbed back aboard the ship, opening a hatch to the engine room. But unable to break the fire, they fled in a small skiff to a nearby boat.

“I could see the fire going through holes in the side of the boat,” said one of the owners of that boat at the time. “There were these explosions every few beats. You cannot prepare for this. It was horrible.

A year later, in October, the NTSB said the blaze had become fatal in part because of the lack of a required night patrol; escape hatches that sent the victims into the living room, where the fire probably started; and an absence of smoke detectors in the living room.

The cause of the fire could not be determined, investigators said.

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