California boat captain jailed for fire that killed 34

Defendant Jerry Boylan, right, captain of the Conception dive boat, arrives at Federal Court on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023
Jerry Boylan, right, was accused of failing to carry out his duties as a ship officer [Getty Images]

The captain of a dive boat has been jailed for four years over the deaths of 34 people in a fire aboard his vessel five years ago in California.

Jerry Boylan, 69, was convicted of one count of "seaman's manslaughter" by a jury last year.

Prosecutors said Boylan failed to have a night patrol or conduct fire drills as required by law.

All 33 passengers and a crew member sleeping below deck died in one of California's worst maritime disasters.

Prosecutors said the captain escaped, along with four members of the crew, without trying to help them.

After last November's guilty verdict from a jury in Los Angeles, US Attorney Martin Estrada said the deaths had been caused by the ship captain's "unpardonable cowardice".

He said Boylan had neglected to carry out his duties by "failing to perform any lifesaving or firefighting activities whatsoever at the time of the fire, even though he was uninjured".

The fire broke out in the early hours of 2 September 2019 while the commercial scuba diving vessel, the Conception, was moored in Platt's Harbour near Santa Cruz Island, south of Santa Barbara. At the time, it had been hosting a dive expedition over the Labor Day holiday weekend.

The captain and crew members escaped by jumping overboard and swimming to another vessel nearby. The crew members told investigators at the time that the flames were too intense to save anyone trapped in the passenger quarters.

The former captain's request for a new trial was denied by a federal judge last month.

Victims of the tragedy include five members of a Californian family who were celebrating a birthday.

Michael Quitasol, his daughters Evan, Nicole and Angela Quitasol, and his wife, Fernisa Sison, were all on the Conception when the fire broke out.

Other victims include marine biologist Kristy Finstad, physics teacher Scott Chan and his daughter Kendra, and Arizona couple Patricia Beitzinger and Neal Baltz.

The captain faced a maximum of 10 years in prison, according to Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.