Written by BRIAN MELLEY-Associated Press
(AP) — The family of the lone crew member to die in a fiery scuba boat disaster that killed all 33 passengers off the Southern California coast last year sued the vessel’s owner Monday in federal court.
The lawsuit by the family of Allie Kurtz claims the owners of the Conception knew the boat was unsafe and lacked required smoke detectors and fire equipment.
Kurtz, 26, was a new crew member and the only one sleeping with the passengers in the berth below deck when the fire broke out in the middle of the night on Labor Day while the boat was anchored near an island off Santa Barbara.
The cause of the blaze remains under investigation by federal prosecutors, the National Transportation Safety Board and Coast Guard.
The suit is the latest to counter a claim filed by the boat company, Truth Aquatics Inc., to shield the owners from damages under a pre-Civil War maritime law that limits liability of vessel owners.
For Kurtz’s family and other victims to move forward with their cases, they will have to show that the boat’s owners, who were on shore, should have known the boat was unsafe at the time of the fire.
The only survivors on the boat were the captain and four other crew members, who were all asleep above deck. They said they awoke to find the boat engulfed in flames and were unable to reach the sleeping passengers or Kurtz and had to jump in the water to save their own lives.
Authorities are looking into whether the boat had a night watchman on duty, as required under Coast Guard rules.
One crew member, who broke his leg trying to escape, has also sued the boat owners.
Boat owners Glen and Dana Fritzler have said in court papers that they “used reasonable care to make the Conception seaworthy, and she was, at all relevant times, tight, staunch, and strong, fully and properly manned, equipped and supplied and in all respects seaworthy and fit for the service in which she was engaged.”
Coast Guard records show the boat had passed its two most recent safety inspections without violations.