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Whale-watching boat breaks down; tourists forced to spend a night at sea

A popular whale-watching boat escapade turned into a sea nightmare for many Boston tourists. On July 29th the Cetacea, an 83-foot-long whale-watching boat run by Boston Harbor Cruises, abruptly stopped about 13 miles off the Boston Long Wharf shore, when a 7-inch liquid natural gas cable wrapped around one of its propellers. Unable to be mobilized back to land, the tourists had to spend the night at sea on plain air, while diver teams detangled the cable.

Although no injuries were reported, around twenty of the 163 passengers became seasick during the 17-hour-long ordeal. They also had to endure a chilly Boston night, since the boat had only a limited number of blankets available, forcing some passengers to use trash bags as ponchos. The boat had also limited amounts of food, only chips and snacks, which the crew gave out to the passengers. It was not until hours later that the Coast Guard came to rescue with blankets and paramedics.

The Coast Guard and the boat captain determined it unsafe to transport passengers back to land on another vessel, since the ocean was too rough that night.

The limited resources on the boat and the lagging communication between the crew and the tour company made some passengers question the company’s boat safety regulations.

“I am legitimately concerned about the safety planning,” Passenger Stuart Raifman, 66, told the Boston Globe. “I don’t think there was a plan, and if there was one, I don’t think it worked very well.”

Not knowing what to expect, some passengers were scared and others did not sleep at all, as passenger Ken Maguire told the Boston Globe. He, his wife and two daughters, 6 and 9, were not comfortable waiting at night in the choppy seas.

The waiting continued as it took two teams of divers to detangle the cable, which is used as a pipe for transporting liquefied natural gas to shore. It floats on the surface and is marked by buoys.

For some spending a night on a boat at sea sounded like an adventure, especially since the passengers were able to return to shore unharmed. But this incident comes to show that Boston Harbor Cruises lacks an adequate safety response for on-board emergencies. This incident could have easily complicated had there been a storm or even a colder night. Likewise, the uncertainty about the rescue and the discomfort of a long wait with limited food and blankets could have triggered anxiety attacks in some passengers. What if some passengers needed emergency medication or missed important events? And why would the company have to rely on the Coast Guard to provide basic supplies, such as blankets? If they were ineffective in providing an adequate response to a relatively minor ordeal, it is distressing to think how they would respond in major ones.

Petty Officer Robert Simpson, who is part of the investigation team, told the Boston Globe that since the incident is not expected to happen, the ship probably did not have a contingency plan for tangled lines. For the safety of its clients, Boston Harbor Cruises needs to start crafting one.

As compensation, passengers on the ship will receive a ticket refund, a $100 voucher toward a cruise on a Boston Harbor Cruises vessel, a $500 check after signing paperwork, and reimbursements for approved expenses.

If you or a loved one undergoes an injury or accident involving boats or other nautical equipment, especially while residing in another person’s premises, we invite you to contact our veteran Personal Injury and Premises Liability Attorneys today. With nearly 50 years of experience successfully representing our clients, the legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP will thoroughly evaluate your case, and relentlessly pursue a Massachusetts personal injury or premises liability lawsuit against your aggressor and against any other parties that could and should have prevented the injury. At Altman & Altman, LLP, we are committed to best serve our clients’ legal needs. We are available anytime of the day to answer case questions, and take no fee unless successful. For your free initial consultation, please call our Boston legal offices today.

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