Ryan Sims is a crew member of the California dive boat the Conception, which caught on fire earlier this month, killing 34 people.
Now, Sims is suing the boat’s owners, arguing that the vessel was not seaworthy on the day of the blaze and that the owners failed to properly maintain the boat and provide adequate safety equipment, among other allegations, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Sims had worked as a steward on the Conception for only three weeks before the fire. The boat was on a three-day trip to the Channel Islands off the coast of California when a fire broke on the early morning of September 2. The vessel was positioned just 20 yards from shore.
Sims’s lawsuit, filed on September 12, lists Truth Aquatics Inc., Worldwide Diving Adventures LLC and Glen Fritzler, the Conception’s owner, as defendants.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sims Broke His Leg in Three Places as he Fled the Deadly Fire
According to court documents, in the early morning hours of September 2, Sims was asleep on the top deck of the Conception. Then, “suddenly and without warning,” he was jolted awake by loud noises and realized a fire had broken out in the boat.
“The fire moved fast and swift through the vessel, trapping [Sims] and other persons aboard the vessel,” the documents state. “Given the significance of the fire, and the layout of the vessel, [Sims] was required to jump from the top deck of the vessel to avoid fire.”
As a result of the leap, Sims fractured his leg in three places and injured his back, neck and other parts of his body, the court documents allege.
“As a result of these injuries, [Sims] has required extensive medical treatment,” it adds.
2. Sims Argues That the Conception Wasn’t Seaworthy on the Day of the Fire
In his lawsuit, Sims claims that the boat was “unseaworthy” on the day it caught on fire. The 75-foot boat had left for the three-day diving trip and caught fire while it was stationed near Santa Cruz Island.
Among the aspects of the boat that were neither seaworthy nor in compliance with applicable laws or industry customs were: its decks, gear, equipment, guardrails, handrails, galley, appurtenances, tools, safety equipment, crew members, training, instruction, safety policies, safety procedures, safety management system and work methods, according to the suit.
Sims also argues that the defendants had “actual and subjective” awareness of these issues with the boat and still failed to fix them.
3. The Steward is Suing the Boat’s Owners for Damages
Sims is seeking an award of punitive damages, including general punitive damages and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
The steward argues that the defendants were negligent for failing to properly maintain the boat, failing to properly train their employees, and failing to provide adequate safety equipment, among several other complaints.
“In all reasonable probability, [Sim’s] physical pain, mental anguish, physical impairment and disfigurement will continue indefinitely,” the documents argue.
4. Other Crew Members, Including the Caption, Escaped the Fire
Five crew members managed to escape the huge blaze, including the boat’s caption, who is thought to be Jerry Boylan. The captain and other crew members were rescued by another vessel named Grape Escape.
In dispatch audio from that night, a dispatcher from the Coast Guard can reportedly be heard speaking to Conception’s captain, who confirms the boat is on fire and over 30 people are still on board.
The member of the Coast Guard asks: “They cannot get off…are they locked inside the boat? Can you get back on board and unlock the doors so they can get off? Was that all the crew that jumped off?”
Then he asks: “Is this the captain?” He reportedly answers: “Roger.”
5. The National Transportation Safety Board is Still Investigating the Incident
Though the National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the fire, Glen Fritzler, the owner and operator of Truth Aquatics who is named in Sims’s lawsuit, has said he is “crushed” by the tragedy.
“We have not yet made a public statement because we have been working tirelessly with the NTSB to find answers,” he told KEYT on September 5. “As a member of the NTSB task force committee, we are prevented from commenting on details of this active investigation. We are committed to finding accurate answers as quickly as possible.”
Fritzler added that he is “utterly crushed” and “devastated” by the fire. “We are a small, family-run business that has taken this event entirely to heart. Our customers are like family to us, many returning for decades. Our crew is family. Our lives have been irreversibly changed by this tragedy and the sorrow it has caused.”