At about 2:30 in the morning in late July of 2015, Peter Nevins was woken up by one of his friends aboard the Rip Curl Quest 1. He was told that something was wrong with the engine. He climbed out of bed and decided to lend a hand. A few hours later, the vessel would be at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, its previous occupants floating around amid the debris. The captain was gone, allegedly fleeing the sinking ship on a Jetski. Now, three Australians and five Americans are suing Rip Curl, PT Neptune Adventures, and a few individuals they claim are responsible.
The Quest 1 was something of a legend. In its early days, when it was known as the Indies Trader II, it was a symbol of Indonesian surf exploration. You may remember it from Rip Curl’s six-month Tip 2 Tip excursion and, of course, their Search campaign. It also hosted the No Destination trip with Kelly Slater, Taylor Knox, Ross Williams, Pat O’Connell, Chris Malloy, and Nick Carroll. The vessel was 69 feet long, slept up to 14, and was involved in more than a few incredible surf trips. It was a bit of a tragedy when it sank; a representation of many surfers’ dreams lying at the bottom of the sea. The sinking itself, though, makes for good story-telling… and a really interesting lawsuit.
According to the complaint, the trip cost the surfers about $30,000. For that kind of cash, one would assume that all the necessary equipment would be in good working order and the crew would be competent. Peter Nevins, Shawn MacLachlan, Nathan Haeger, Jeffrey Denson, Jay Lewis, Matthew Smart, Matthew Learmonth and Luke Doyle say that was definitely not the case. “At a minimum, defendants’ acts and omissions were outrageous and demonstrated a complete and reckless disregard for the plaintiffs’ safety,” they say in the lawsuit. Here’s what the suit alleges:
(1) exposing and subjecting the PLAINTIFFS to an unreasonably unsafe vessel with an unqualified and incompetent crew;
(2) putting the PLAINTIFFS in a dangerous situation;
(3) abandoning the PLAINTIFFS aboard the sinking vessel casting them away without sufficient or proper emergency life-saving equipment;
(4) failing to notify or even attempting to notify qualified search and rescue authorities or entities (such as the local or regional coast guard) when it became known that the PLAINTIFFS were in distress, stranded at sea, and at risk of being forever lost;
(5) failing to assemble, instruct, or provide any reasonable rescue effort with other vessels in the vicinity of the PLAINTIFFS last known location;
(6) failing to provide reasonable aid or any assistance whatsoever to the PLAINTIFFS, when they were known to be in distress and shock – suffering from mental and physical injuries – and ignoring and eventually rejecting PLAINTIFFS’ repeated requests for help to return to their homes; and
(7) leaving them stranded yet again upon their arrival home withholding reimbursement of their damages, losses, medical bills, and lost property.
When Nevins saw when he walked into the engine room that night wasn’t what one wants to see on a boat 30 miles out to sea in the middle of the night. According to the plaintiffs, water poured into the ship, the engine room was flooded, and the crew was frantic.
“At no time did any alarm sound to alert the crew or passengers that the vessel was flooding and that critical safety equipment had failed,” the suit alleges. “Maclachlan immediately woke up his fellow passengers to warn them of the emergency at hand. The passengers quickly discovered that the QUEST 1 had no other means by which to dewater the engine room or slow/stop the ingress of seawater. The vessel was devoid of any emergency damage control and/or shoring equipment, and it was later discovered that the QUEST 1 lacked an operable Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (also known as an “EPIRB”) and other required satellite communication equipment.”
Sounds bad, right? Well, it gets worse. “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,” wrote Don Debenedictis for Courthouse News. “Meanwhile, they say, ‘the crew … completely abandoned all repair efforts.'”
By 3 a.m. it was apparent that the ship was going to sink. The passengers and crew were told to gather up what they could and abandon ship. When they went to their berths, however, “they found seawater and fuel pouring into their berths.”
When everyone began to abandon ship, it was chaos. “It was a frenzy at first – people were just jumping off, going under the ski all that stuff – the ski tipped over actually,” Nevins told Surfing Life. “We had a masseuse on board who wasn’t a very good swimmer, and she grabbed onto one of the guests to stay above water, but was bringing the guest down in the process.” That guest, the lawsuit says, was Denson. “Denson swam over to her but she panicked and pulled Denson under the water as she flailed at the surface. As the Captain attempted to pick her up, he ran over Denson with the Jet Ski.”
Eventually, the passengers all found their way onto life rafts. Now, though, they faced a different problem: they were 30 miles out to sea with no emergency beacons and no radio. “For the next several hours, passengers floated in the life raft in complete darkness and rough seas,” reads the suit. “Several passengers suffered chemical reactions from the diesel fuel and others experienced severe motion sickness with bouts of vomiting throughout the night… By 7:30 a.m., the passengers observed that there were neither rescue vessels in sight nor any search aircraft overhead. Despite their knowledge of the vessel’s emergency, the Defendants had apparently taken no action whatsoever to notify the Indonesian coast guard or any other local or regional rescue resources.”
In an act reminiscent of Eddie Aikau, Maclachlan, along with two crew members, set off towards land. Within an hour, they were able to flag down another vessel, the Foxy Lady, which took them back to the rafts, transferred the passengers and remaining crew and called for assistance. In a strange irony, the vessel that answered was the Indies Trader III, captained by none other than surf legend Martin Daly. He was also the man who built the Quest 1.
The Indies Trader III set off towards Padang and the passengers all arrived safe (but a little worse for wear), but the story doesn’t end there. “Upon arrival at Padang, the passengers disembarked the INDIES TRADER III and sought out Yulvianti,” the complaint says. Yulvianti refers to Shirlie Yulvianti, who basically handled all the expedition details. “She advised plaintiffs that she needed them to fill out certain paperwork in order to send it to the insurance company and process their claims.”
The passengers were assured by Yulvianti that the claims process would begin soon, and they went their separate ways. That was the last time they saw or heard from her. “Plaintiffs attempted to contact the defendants for assistance in accommodations and return travel. Their calls went unanswered and emails ignored.”
Now, years later, things have finally come to a head. The lawsuit claims that the defendants used the insurance from the Quest 1 to buy another vessel. Peter Nevins, Shawn MacLachlan, Nathan Haeger, Jeffrey Denson, Jay Lewis, Matthew Smart, Matthew Learmonth and Luke Doyle are seeking punitive damages for negligence, emotional distress, breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment… and if half of what the complaint alleges is true, they’re due a pretty massive check.
Read the entire 20-page complaint here, because there’s a lot of other crazy stuff that’s not in this story. At the time of publication, Rip Curl representatives hadn’t responded to requests for comment.