Charter Boat Accidents

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The tragic death of 34 people last year in a boat fire in California sheds light on safety considerations for boat operators and passengers. A fire on board the diving boat, Conception, claimed the lives of 33 passengers and one crew member last September off the coast of southern California. The victims were sleeping below the deck when the fire started at 3:15 am.

Five other people, including the boat’s captain and four crew members survived. Here in south Louisiana, boating is a favorite past-time so the legal team at Joseph Joy and Associates was interested in the facts and investigation of this tragedy. Of course, we hope a serious boat accident never occurs in the Atchafalaya Basin or nearby bayous and rivers. However, if disaster strikes and you or a loved one is injured due to the negligence of a charter boat operator, call our attorneys immediately. If retained, the legal team can review the facts and evidence and determine fault and liability. You may be entitled to compensation.

In a serious boat accident, a thorough investigation is a must. After medical teams have transported the injured, the evidence-gathering process will begin. And it should be meticulous, with investigators taking every precaution to preserve valuable evidence to recreate the scene if necessary. State, local and Coast Guard investigators will scour the scene gathering evidence. It is important that victims and family’s suffering the loss of a loved one be represented. The maritime attorneys at the Lafayette law firm of Joseph Joy and Associates are experienced in investigating maritime and diving accidents.

In the case of the California boat fire mentioned above, attorneys for four of the families filed suit against the owner of the boat for wrongful death. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board believe the fire started when a lithium ion battery charging station for the diving equipment located in the galley above the sleeping quarters overheated and caught fire. The investigation further revealed that about a year before the fire, another boat owned by the same defendant company experienced a fire caused by a lithium battery, according to an article in the Los Angeles Daily News.

Within hours of that boat fire, the United States Coast Guard declared the accident a major marine casualty. Under federal law, 46 U.S. Code § 6101, the term “major marine casualty” means a casualty involving a vessel, other than a public vessel, that results in—
(1) the loss of 6 or more lives;
(2) the loss of a mechanically propelled vessel of 100 or more gross tons;
(3) property damage initially estimated at $2,000,000 or more; or
(4) serious threat, as determined by the Commandant with concurrence by the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, to life, property, or the environment by hazardous materials.

The National Transportation Safety Board was named as the lead Federal Agency and launched a full investigation. Federal investigators collecting documents for recent Coast Guard inspections and visited other vessels owned by the company. Salvage operations were undertaken to bring the wreckage to the surface for examination. Routinely, investigators will also examine current regulations regarding similar vassals, smoke detection and alarm systems, evacuation routes, training and company policies and procedures.

Are you considering a trip aboard a charter? For fishing, diving or sailing? Be sure and do your homework.

Resident and nonresident guides operating charter fishing vessels in saltwater areas of Louisiana must have a Charter Boat Fishing Guide License. Visit the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website for details on the various state licenses and permits.

Does the boat have a valid Certificate of Inspection? Not having a credentialed mariner in control of a passenger vessel and not having a drug and alcohol program. The last thing you want to do is to hire a charter that’s in violation of state and federal inspection regulations.

Does it have a drug and alcohol program for its crew members?¬
Ask to see the Stability Letter issued before the vessel is placed in service. The stability letter must be posted under glass or other suitable transparent material, such that all pages are visible, at the operating station of the vessel.

Does the captain have a vessel safety plan? Review the evacuation route and procedure in the event of a fire at sea.

These regulations and inspections are for everyone’s safety. Owners and operators of illegal charter vessels can face maximum civil penalties of over $59,000 for illegal passenger-for-hire operations. Some potential fines for illegally operating a charter vessel are:
Up to $18,943 for failure of an inspected vessel to be under the control of an individual with the appropriate Coast Guard license.

Up to $7,710 for failure of operators to be enrolled in a chemical testing program.

Up to $4,803 for failure to provide a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection for vessels carrying more than six passengers.

Up to $16,398 for failure to produce a valid Certificate of Documentation for vessels over 5 gross tons.

Up to $12,007 for failure to have been issued a valid Stability Letter prior to placing vessel in service with more than six passengers.

Enjoy boating in the waters in and around Acadiana and South Louisiana. If you or a loved one is injured in a boating accident due to someone else’s negligence, whether it involves a charter or not, contact the legal team at Joseph Joy and Associates so we can evaluate and get to work on your case: 337-232-8123.






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