Family of El Faro crew member claims $100m

2015-10-14 22:29
In this October 5 2015 photo a US Coast Guard air crew member carries a life ring recovered during the search for the El Faro. (US Coast Guard hand-out, via AFP)

In this October 5 2015 photo a US Coast Guard air crew member carries a life ring recovered during the search for the El Faro. (US Coast Guard hand-out, via AFP)

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Jacksonville - A lawyer for the family of a missing crew member from the El Faro cargo ship, which sank off the Bahamas in a hurricane two weeks ago, said he filed a $100m lawsuit in Florida court on Wednesday against the owners of the ship, accusing them of gross negligence.

The lawsuit on behalf of the estate of Lonnie Jordan, one of the 33 crew presumed dead, was filed in Jacksonville, against Tote Services and Tote Maritime Puerto Rico, attorney Willie E Gary told reporters outside the Duval County courthouse, where he was surrounded by relatives of the crew.

Gary described the sinking as a "tragic accident that didn't have to happen", and accused the company of putting profit ahead of the lives of its employees by deciding to sail into the oncoming storm.

"The ship should have never left dock. The ship was not seaworthy," said Gary, a flamboyant Florida-based personal injury lawyer who has taken on major corporations such as Walt Disney and Anheuser-Busch.

"We hope to get to the bottom of this," he added, saying more lawsuits would follow on behalf of relatives of other crew.

"We're at war now," Gary said.

Tote Maritime declined to discuss the lawsuit and a spokesperson said the company was "fully focused on supporting the families and their loved ones".

Tote executives have previously said the captain sailed with a sound plan and blamed the sinking on engine failure.

Jordan, 33, of Jacksonville, worked on the ship for 13 years as a cook and at other jobs, his family told the Jacksonville Times-Union.

The 241m container ship left Jacksonville on a weekly cargo run to Puerto Rico on the evening of September 29. It was last heard from on the morning of October 1 when the captain communicated that the ship had taken on water, was listing at 15° and had lost propulsion.

Its last known position was close to the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, battling 15m waves and winds over 160km/h. 

The U. Coast Guard called off a search and rescue mission last week after finding only one body amid debris from the ship.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation is under way and is co-ordinating a salvage team to retrieve the ship's voyage data recorder.

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