Shipwreck! And Abandoned Surfers Say the Owners Should Pay

“Chaos ensued. The masseuse panicked and jumped onto the Jet Ski with the captain.”

SANTA ANA (CN) — When the surf charter boat M/V Quest 1 sank in the Indian Ocean in the predawn hours of July 18, 2015, eight top surfers were left to drift for hours before rescue boats plucked them from their crowded life raft. Now the five Californians and three Australians have sued the Rip Curl surf clothing company for sending them to sea in a dangerous boat with an incompetent crew.

Reading more like an adventure novel than a legal document, their 20-page complaint blasts Rip Curl, which organized the wave-chasing excursion, for luring the men into a two-week, $30,000 outing on a boat without working bilge pumps or emergency equipment and with a captain who fled on a JetSki as his ship went down.

“At a minimum, defendants’ acts and omissions were outrageous and demonstrated a complete and reckless disregard for the plaintiffs’ safety,” say Peter Nevins and the seven other plaintiffs: Shawn MacLachlan, Nathan Haeger, Jeffrey Denson, Jay Lewis, Matthew Smart, Matthew Learmonth and Luke Doyle.

In addition to Rip Curl, the surfers sued company principals Francois Payot, Doug Warbrick and Andre Sickinger, and the registered owner of the sunken boat, PT Neptune Adventures, which they describe as “a mere ruse, sham and shell” set up to “avoid liability and circumvent regulatory compliance” for the Quest 1. PT Neptune’s headquarters is in the same building in Bali, Indonesia, as Rip Curl’s office there.

Neither plaintiffs’ attorney Joseph A. Walsh II of Clyde & Co in Newport Beach nor a representative of Costa Mesa-based Rip Curl returned calls about the lawsuit Friday.

According to the complaint, the surfers’ harrowing adventure traces back to spring 2015, when Sickinger as the Quest 1’s booking agent met Lewis and invited him to travel with other surfers to Indonesia’s Mentawai Islands to search for big waves. They paid a total of $30,400 for the trip.

The Quest 1 was formerly known as the “legendary” Indies Trader II, described by a surfing publication as the first luxury super boat and famous for some high-profile surfing expeditions with top professionals. At 21 feet, it slept eight passengers plus five crew, including the captain.

In about 2007, Rip Curl took over the vessel, renamed it and promoted its “Live the Search” adventures to advertise the company’s surfing apparel line, according to the complaint and news articles.

On July 19, 2015, the eight surfers set sail from West Sumatra for the Mentawai Islands and what they believed would be “the surfing adventure of a lifetime.”

About 2:30 a.m. on July 22, as they were about 30 miles out to sea, MacLachlan awoke to discover the crew highly agitated and 3 feet of water in the engine room.

“Apparently, none of the bilge pumps aboard Quest 1 were working,” the complaint states. Nor did the luxury super boat appear to have necessary emergency equipment or signaling beacon.

The captain “barricaded himself in the wheelhouse” and began “yelling obscenities in English into the radio,” so the surfers tried to bail out the engine room themselves. Meanwhile, they say, “the crew … completely abandoned all repair efforts.”

A little before 3 a.m., MacLachlan reach his girlfriend on his cellphone and told her to call Sickinger.

Nevins told the passengers and crew to gather their possessions and prepare to abandon ship. When they did, they found seawater and fuel pouring into their berths.

Just before 4 a.m., “the captain inexplicably broke away and launched the Jet Ski from Quest 1, abandoning his passengers, crew, and sinking ship.

“Chaos ensued. The masseuse panicked and jumped onto the Jet Ski with the captain.”

The crew made off in the motorized tender boat, leaving the surfers to try to inflate and launch the life rafts. They couldn’t operate the first raft, but the second inflated and most of the surfers clambered in.

Denson, faced with 15 knot winds and 6 foot swells, could not. He began to swim, stopping to rescue the masseuse, who had fallen off the Jet Ski. The captain circled back to pick her up, but ran over Denson instead, the surfers say. Denson’s companions soon rescued him.

The surfers floated through the night, sick and vomiting from diesel fuel and tossing seas. At dawn, they saw the Quest 1 finally sink into the ocean.

“Shortly thereafter, the first life raft released, self-inflated and floated to the surface.”

By 7:30 that morning, they realized that the defendants “had taken no action whatsoever” to get them rescued. So MacLachlan and two crew members headed off toward where they believed land might be.

MacLachlan succeeded in hailing another boat, which rescued him and the others.

Back on land, the surfers tried to reach Rip Curl and the other defendants for help getting home. “Their calls went unanswered and emails ignored,” they say.

Rather than help them, the lawsuit claims, the defendants used insurance payouts from the Quest 1’s sinking to buy another surfing vessel.

The eight men seek punitive damages for negligence, emotional distress, breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment.

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