According to Reuters, each of the 34 seaman’s manslaughter counts carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in prison if he is convicted.
The indictment accuses the captain of causing the deaths of the 33 passengers and one crew member who perished in the Labor Day weekend boat fire by way of “his misconduct, negligence, and inattention to his duties,” the prosecutors’ statement stated.
The grand jury also cited three specific federal safety violations, such as failures to assign a night watch or roving patrol aboard the boat, to carry out sufficient crew training or to carry out adequate fire drills.
The victims had been sleeping below deck aboard the 75-foot Conception when the fire broke out on September 2, 2019, while anchored in Platt’s Harbor near Santa Cruz Island, off the Santa Barbara coast.
The surviving crew were been above deck in berths behind the wheelhouse and escaped by leaping overboard as the burning boat sank into the Pacific. They told investigators that flames coming from the passenger quarters were too intense to save anyone trapped below.
Investigators concluded that the victims died of smoke inhalation.
After the disaster, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a safety bulletin urging limits on the use of lithium-ion batteries and chargers aboard passenger vessels. The document recommended investigators were looking into the possibility that such batteries may have ignited the Conception fire.
The captain is expected to surrender to authorities in coming weeks, the U.S. attorney’s statement said.