Santa Barbara, California: Did you know that there are a multitude of causes which could deem a vessel to be unseaworthy? Well, there are, and crewman Ryan Sims, who was working as a cook for just a mere three weeks on a vessel, recently filed suit against the boat owner for a harrowing fire he barely escaped from.
On September 2nd, 2019 Sims was awakened by loud noises in the early morning, and was faced with a fire rapidly spreading throughout the vessel on which he was employed. Sims was sleeping on the upper deck, along with other crew members, and jumped from the upper deck in order to avert the flames. Although Sims managed to get in the water he also managed to break his leg in three places, as well as injuring his neck and back before eventually being rescued by another crew member.
Sims filed the lawsuit last week, stating in his Complaint that the boat was operated in an unsafe manner and was unseaworthy. The lawsuit, which named the owners of the vessel, Truth Aquatics Inc., and Worldwide Diving Adventures, was filed in Ventura County Superior Court.
The Conception, a 75-foot commercial diving vessel, caught fire over Labor Day Weekend, cruising off the coast of California’s Channel Islands for a three day scuba trip cruise with a total of thirty-nine souls on board, thirty-three of which perished in the conflagration on the water.
The fire was first reported at 3:14 a.m., and all of the dead were sleeping in a bunk room, which was located below deck. A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board was released, stating that the all of the surviving crew members were asleep on the upper deck at the time of the blaze, which has raised questions as to why the Coast Guard minimum of one night watch crew member left awake was not adhered to. Investigations into the cause(s) and potential crimes are still underway, and while this is the first known lawsuit to seek damages in this disastrous fire there are likely more to come.
Even though there wasn’t a night watch the fact that the boat sank and caught fire may be enough to demonstrate that the vessel was unseaworthy. Beyond that the lawsuit claims that the vessel was not maintained properly, the staff was not properly trained, and that the boat did not have adequate safety equipment.
The boat owners pre-emptively filed under a pre-Civil War maritime law, shielding boat owners from monetary damages in a disaster at sea. This means that Sims must first defeat the boat owners in federal court before the lawsuit can be considered beyond that. As long as the boat owners demonstrate that they were not at fault or knowledgeable about something that would go awry they could be likely to win.
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