A crew member who was aboard Conception when a fire broke out in the early morning on Labor Day has filed a lawsuit against the vessel owner and dive charter company
In a civil complaint filed Sept. 12 in Ventura County Superior Court, Ryan Sims said he was sleeping on the top deck of the vessel when he was awakened by loud noises. Mr. Sims said the fire had trapped him and the other employees, forcing him to jump from the top dock which caused him to fracture his leg in three places, among other injuries.
Of the 39 passengers, Mr. Sims was one of five crew members who survived the fire. The vessel ultimately sunk and 33 passengers and one other crew member were killed in what is considered one of the area’s worst-ever maritime disasters.
The defendants in the lawsuit include Worldwide Diving Adventures LLC – which chartered the trip – Truth Aquatics Inc. and the owner and operator Glen Fritzler.
According to the Ventura County Superior Court website, the case is still pending and the next hearing date listed is Feb. 19, 2020.
Mr. Sims alleges that Truth Aquatics did not properly maintain the vessel, nor did the company train its employees, provide adequate safety equipment and rules. The lawsuit states the vessel was operated with an obvious dangerous condition and did not have an adequate emergency evacuation.
The company has stated previously that it made sure the vessel was properly equipped and maintained. Truth Aquatics also filed a lawsuit in court shortly after the tragedy to limit its liability under a commonly invoked maritime law.
The lawsuit filed by Mr. Sims seeks damages under the federal Jones Act, alleging unseaworthiness and general maritime negligence.
He is represented by Roland Thomas Christensen, a lawyer with Houston, Tx.-based law firm Arnold & Itkin LLP.
Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its preliminary report which cited accounts from the surviving crew members who were aboard the ship when it caught fire around 3:15 a.m. Sept. 2 near Santa Cruz Island.
The vessel was recovered Sept. 12 and was taken to a secure location for further inspection. Investigators have not released information pertaining to the cause of the fire.
The U.S. Coast Guard issued a safety advisory following the incident, urging boat operators to review their emergency equipment and procedures.