Suit alleges ‘gross negligence’ in Maui yacht grounding that damaged reef
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federal lawsuit has been filed against the operator of the luxury yacht that ran aground at Maui’s Honolua Bay, which was scuttled in 900 feet of water as it was being towed.
At stake is who will pay the state for the $500,000 in salvage costs and significant damage to the Honolua reef along with the loss of the vessel.
The suit accuses Jim Jones, owner of the 94-foot Nakoa, of negligence and misrepresentation, which may have nullified his insurance coverage.
In the lawsuit, Kevin and Kimberly Albert ― as trustee owners of the Nakoa ― said they sold the yacht to Jones in December and that the family cruise that ended on the Honolua shoreline violated not only state rules, but also contracts to purchase and insure the vessel.
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Attorney Jay Friedheim is not involved in the case, but is an expert in maritime law.
He said cases like this can involve many parties all trying to avoid paying the bills.
“We don’t know if that’s going to be finally the guy who bought it, or the guy who sold it or they’re both stuck,” Friedheim said.
The lawsuit says Jones agreed to pay $1.45 million over 15 years for Nakoa.
The deal’s requirements included following all laws and rules and having a captain approved by the insurance company. The lawsuit says the day of the grounding, the captain was unapproved and inexperienced on Nakoa.
“If the insurance company says that the insurance contract was void, because they didn’t get to deal with the captain’s qualifications,” Friedheim said, “then that insurance company is not going to be a possible source to get the money to pay back the public.”
The lawsuit also contradicts Jones’ public statements about what happened on the morning Nakoa became unmoored. “While we’re underneath the boat during our pre-check, the mooring line broke,” Jones told Hawaii News Now on the day of the grounding. “As we come out of the boat, it was too late.”
But the lawsuit said after illegally mooring overnight, Jones was alerted by a digital anchor alarm and that the captain had time to maneuver the vessel, but still ran aground.
The lawsuit claims Jones was “grossly negligent, willful, and demonstrated a wanton disregard for the consequences of their actions in that there was no preparation for the weather conditions, which were expected and none of the standard maritime practices for the safe operation of the Vessel were followed.”
Preservation advocate John Carty, with the Save Honolulu Coalition, was not surprised by the lawsuit.
“For me, it was interesting to read the first legal opinion that describes his negligence,” Carty said.
The suit demands Jones repay the value of the yacht, pay for salvage and environmental costs and that Jones’ other charter yacht ― the 75-foot Noelani ― be held to pay damages.
The company website says operations have ceased. Jones initially apologized for the grounding but denied any negligence. Efforts to reach him or his attorney in a prior lawsuit were not returned Tuesday.
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