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Survivors sue tour company over Tofino whale-watching tragedy, allege negligence

The bow of the Leviathan II, a whale-watching boat owned by Jamie's Whaling Station, is seen near Vargas Island Tuesday, October 27, 2015 as it waited to be towed into Tofino, B.C., for inspection.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
April 06, 2016 - 8:30 AM

VANCOUVER - A man who says he narrowly escaped the submerged interior of a capsized whale-watching vessel is one of two men suing a Vancouver Island nature-tour company alleging negligence.

Christian Barchfeld and his brother Dirk, both of Germany, have filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against Jamie's Whaling Station, saying in court documents that the company should have known better than to allow the Leviathan II out in treacherous ocean conditions on Oct. 25, 2015.

Company owner Jamie Bray and ship captain Wayne Dolby are also named in the suit. Bray declined comment, and Dolby could not be reached.

Corene Inouye, a spokeswoman for Jamie's Whaling Station, said the company will continue to reach out and offer help to passengers affected by the accident.

"We have no reason to believe the crew or operators were in any way negligent," she said in a telephone interview from Tofino, where the company is based.

"One thing the (statement of) claim does say is that this was a very sudden and unexpected event, which is consistent with everything we know about this accident being caused by a rogue wave."

None of the allegations have been tested in court and a statement of defence has not been filed.

Five Britons and an Australian died after the 20-metre tour vessel flipped with 24 passengers and three crew on board.

The statement of claim filed earlier this month in B.C. Supreme Court says Christian Barchfeld had felt ill and retreated to the lower, inside deck of the vessel as waves taller than two metres struck the ship.

The Leviathan II suddenly tipped violently to the left and Barchfeld was "thrown about the cabin as though he were in a washing machine," the document says.

It describes how he tried to escape via a blocked stairwell before attempting unsuccessfully to break the cabin windows.

He eventually found an escape passage and made it to the vessel's exterior, where he clutched a side rail while waves continued to slam into him, the notice of claim says.

"His legs were entangled in ropes and cables and he could do nothing to untangle them," it says.

"He was losing strength in the cold water and from the exertion of clinging to the vessel and almost gave up hope of surviving."

A fishing boat eventually arrived and pulled him to safety, at which point he fell unconscious during the half-hour trip back to land, the claim says.

His brother Dirk Barchfeld found a life ring and crowded together with several other people in the water, the document says.

"Approximately 25 minutes after the capsize, Dirk and the other passengers saw a male body floating face down in the water. But they were unable to reach him."

The notice of claim says Dirk Barchfeld and the others with him were rescued by a fishing boat more than an hour after the vessel capsized.

The Barchfeld brothers, who were vacationing in Canada, are seeking compensation for alleged physical and psychological injuries.

The Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation to determine the cause of the capsizing.

The statement of claim speculates that the orientation of the ship broadside to the waves and the majority of passengers crowding onto the left side of the vessel's upper viewing deck may be partly to blame.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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