Lawsuit possible over boy's death on cruise

Sunday, December 28, 2003

The jurist failed to disclose long-held family property where crimes were alleged

By Leila Fujimori

lfujimori@starbulletin.com

The family of a 3-year-old boy who died while on a whale-watching cruise has hired a local attorney and may file a lawsuit.

"The evidence uncovered in talking to a number of witnesses is that the captain is responsible for the boy's death," said attorney L. Rick Fried Jr.

Fried said he is interviewing witnesses and plans to hold a news conference tomorrow.

However, the Coast Guard said its preliminary investigation shows no apparent wrongdoing on the part of the captain during the Christmas Day incident.

Dream Cruises Hawaii, which owns the whale-watching vessel, could not be reached for comment about the possible lawsuit.

Ryker David-Lee Hamilton of Norfolk, Va., was on the American Dream, a 108-foot whale-watching boat, with his father, Ryan Hamilton, when a group of whales surfaced in front of the ship.

A Coast Guard spokesman said the captain turned the boat to avoid the whales, but the boy struck his head and suffered a fatal injury.

The boy was taken by Coast Guard helicopter to shore and died at the Queen's Medical Center.

There have been conflicting reports from witnesses on whether the whale hit the boat.

Lt. Cmdr. Todd Offut said the investigation is continuing and may take several months to complete.

The Coast Guard has also been talking with the National Marine Fisheries Service about the incident.

Offut said the fisheries service will review the case to determine whether policies need to be changed.

Jeff Walters, co-manager of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, said marine mammal scientists and sanctuary managers met recently to discuss ways to avoid collisions between boats and whales in Hawaii.

There are two to five collisions a year in Hawaiian waters, Walters said, and concern is growing because the population of whales is growing.

Most boats do not have forward-looking sonar, which could detect whales in front of ships, Walters said. He said the technology is too expensive and is experimental. Scientists don't know the effect sonar may have on marine mammals.

Forward-looking sonar is different from higher-frequency fish-finding sonar, which can only detect fish directly below a ship.

"If there is anything to prevent this from happening, we want to help," Walters said. "It sounds like a freak occurrence, but we don't have enough information."

Humpbacks migrate from the northern Pacific Ocean to Hawaii in the winter and spring to mate, give birth and nurture their calves.

"They do pop up in front of boats," Walters said. "All mariners need to be careful."