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Family Involved In Fatal Whale Accident Sues

POSTED: 3:58 pm HST January 5, 2004 | UPDATED: 9:34 am HST January 6, 2004

Attorney Says Boat Captain Sailed Too Fast

HONOLULU -- The family of a 3-year-old boy who died in a whale-watching accident Christmas Day sued the eco-tour company for wrongful death and negligence Monday. Ryker Hamilton

Honolulu attorney Rick Fried Jr. said attempts to settle out of court regarding the death of Ryker Hamilton of Norfolk, Va., have been unsuccessful. The lawsuit names Dream Cruises, the company that owns this boat, as well as the president and the man who was at the helm the day of the accident, charging them all with negligence.

Fried said the man at the helm of the American Dream was not paying attention and was driving too fast. He said that's what caused the boat to strike a whale, in turn causing Hamilton to hit his head and suffer fatal injuries.

"We're obviously very concerned based on the evidece, about the failure of the captain to watch where he was going and striking the whale," Fried said.

The family said they have two goals for the lawsuit: "To make sure the rules are followed so this doesn't happen again. And number two, to set it straight for the record as to what happened in this incident," Fried said. Mike Watson, the president and co-owner of Dream Cruises, said the incident was a freak accident, and its crew did nothing wrong.

"During our own internal investigation, and cooperating with the Coast Guard, we haven't turned up anything that would indicate that there was negligence of any kind on our part," Watson said.

However, the family's lawyer said a surfer has told them he saw the same boat has behaved dangerously before. "The Dream Cruises operation behaved in a similar fashion in the past, where the boats have gone in at a high rate of speed and approached whales, so that they were somewhat endangered," Fried said.

The company said no one has ever filed a complaint about its boats' proximity to whales in the nine years the company's done business in Hawaii.

The American Dream has not been in service since the day of the accident. That's because the company says the captain blew out the engine, racing to get back to shore that day. It's being repaired now and is expected to be back in service toward the end of this week.

The Coast Guard found 15 deficiencies when it last inspected the American Dream in September, KITV 4 News has learned. Coast Guard inspectors found the boat lacked an adequate "emergency evacuation plan" and "fire control plan." Inspectors also found the boat failed to list the maximum capacity of life rafts and needed to fumigate the vessel and clean its kitchen.

"I would say that that number and the list that you just showed me are fairly typical of this kind of thing. They've all been resolved and they're not indicative of anything that would lead up to an accident like this," Watson said. Coast Guard records show the company fixed most of the problems within one month. All of the problems were resolved within two months.