Captain indicted in California dive boat that killed 34 passengers including Indian Americans


On September 2, 2019, 33 passengers and one crew member died during the early morning hours when fire broke out on a 75-foot dive boat Conception, off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.

The captain, Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, and four other crew members escaped the blaze considered one of California’s deadliest maritime disasters.

Now on Tuesday, December 1, the captain of a dive boat, was indicted on 34 counts of negligent manslaughter.

Prosecutors say the captain “was responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its crew, and its passengers” at the time of the fire, but that Boylan’s misconduct, negligence, and failure to “follow well-established safety rules” caused the deaths of 34 people that night.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Among the 34 that died on board, 3 were of Indian origin.

Sunil Singh Sandhu, who immigrated from Singapore, more than two decades ago, and an Indian American couple Kaustubh Nirmal and Sanjeeri Deopujari, who lived from Stamford Connecticut, were aboard ill-fated ship.

Sandhu, a research scientist, was working as a senior scientist in silicon photonics at Pointcloud Inc., a start-up based in San Francisco.

Remains of Kaustubh and Deopujari have been identified. The investigations reveal that the victims died of smoke inhalation and not burns.

“A pleasant holiday dive trip turned into a hellish nightmare as passengers and one crew member found themselves trapped in a fiery bunk room with no means of escape,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna in a statement.

Prosecutors allege that Boylan failed to have a night watch or roving patrol on the boat, neglected to conduct sufficient fire drills, and failed to conduct sufficient crew training — all requirements under the Code of Federal Regulations.

The 34 victims the night of the fire were asleep in the lower-level bunk room while the five other crew members slept on the upper deck. A crew member woke to find a glow emanating from the main deck. At that point, the flames quickly spread. The crew attempted to reach the victims on the lower deck, but were blocked by the inferno.

If a crew member had been designated as a night watchman to patrol the vessel, the fire could’ve been noticed sooner, and lives could’ve been saved, investigators said.

Following the incident, the company and its owners have been subject to lawsuits from the families of victims.