By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The captain of a Santa Barbara-based dive boat that caught fire in 2019 near Santa Cruz Island, killing 34 people, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges.

Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, of Santa Barbara, is facing 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter in connection with the deadly Sept. 2, 2019, fire aboard the Conception, a 75-foot, wood and fiberglass passenger vessel. Each charge carries with it a penalty of up to 10 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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Boylan has been accused of causing the deaths of the 33 passengers and one crew member “by his misconduct, negligence, and inattention to his duties,” according to an indictment filed in December.

That indictment cites three specific safety violations: failing to have a night watch or roving patrol, which is required by the Code of Federal Regulations and was a requirement in the Conception’s Certificate of Inspection issued by the U.S. Coast Guard for more than 20 years; failing to conduct sufficient fire drills, mandated by the CFR; and failing to conduct sufficient crew training, also required by the CFR.

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The fire broke out in the predawn hours while the boat was anchored in Platt’s Harbor near Santa Cruz Island. The blaze engulfed the vessel and ultimately caused it to sink — killing those who had been sleeping below deck. Boylan was among the five crew members able to escape and jump into the water.

The families of the victims have filed suit against the boat owners, Glen and Dana Fritzler and Truth Aquatics. The Fritzlers and the company then filed a legal claim to shield them from damages under a maritime law that limits liability for vessel owners.

Boylan was released on a $250,000 bond following his arraignment. A March 30 trial has been scheduled before U.S. District Judge George H. Wu.

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)