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California Boat Captain Charged With Manslaughter in Fire That Killed 34

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

Investigators said that the captain, Jerry Boylan, 67, had neglected key safety precautions and that that had contributed to the deadliness of the fire. Mr. Boylan failed to conduct mandatory fire drills and crew training, and he did not post a federally required night watch or patrol, according to the indictment.

“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,” United States Attorney Nick Hanna said in a news release.

Mr. Boylan is expected to turn himself in to the federal authorities in the coming weeks; two public defenders representing him could not immediately be reached for comment. Each charge of seaman’s manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

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

Mr. Boylan told investigators that he had been awakened by the crew and was able to make a call to 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 operation since 1981.

“This tragedy forever altered the lives of so many families and loved ones, and it deeply affected members of the public who watched in horror,” said Kristi K. Johnson, the assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.’s Los Angeles field office.

Shortly after the blaze, a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board said the five members of the crew sleeping on the sun deck were unable to reach the galley because of fire at one end and thick smoke at the other.

After jumping overboard because of the treacherous conditions, the report said, the captain and two others swam and reboarded the ship, opening a hatch to the engine room. But unable to breach the fire, they fled in a small skiff toward a nearby boat.

“I could see the fire coming through holes on the side of the boat,” one of the owners of that boat said at the time. “There were these explosions every few beats. You can’t prepare yourself for that. It was horrendous.”

A year later, in October, the N.T.S.B. said the fire had turned deadly in part because of the lack of a required night patrol; escape hatches that sent victims into the lounge, where the fire most likely broke out; and an absence of smoke detectors in the lounge.

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

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