The family of a man who died in January after a fishing boat capsized off Huntington Beach is bringing a wrongful-death claim against an underwater seafood farm over a broken line that investigators say wrapped around the boat’s propeller.
Maynard Poynter, 71, of Westminster was fishing on a friend’s boat Jan. 3 in the area of Catalina Sea Ranch six miles off Huntington Beach when the 25-foot boat overturned after the broken underwater line wrapped around the propeller, according to a report by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
County coroner’s officials determined that Poynter drowned. The boat’s owner, who also was onboard, survived.
Lawyers for the Poynter family are asking Catalina Sea Ranch to settle for $10 million in connection with Poynter’s death, according to a letter they sent to CSR representatives Dec. 3. Catalina Sea Ranch, the first offshore aquaculture facility to be granted a federal permit to operate in U.S. waters, manages a 100-acre underwater farm that cultivates mussels, giant kelp, scallops, oysters, macro algae and abalone.
“Had CSR simply cut the broken line at least 20 feet below the ocean surface, Maynard’s boat would not have capsized on Jan. 3 and he would still be alive with his family today,” according to the letter.
Investigators also determined that the boat’s “excessive speed” had “exacerbated the accident,” the Sheriff’s Department report said.
Catalina Sea Ranch attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Poynter family attorney Brian Easton also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The boat’s owner had launched the 2004 Contender out of Sunset Aquatic Marina in Huntington Beach that morning, and at about 10 a.m. it was traveling 20 to 25 mph to a fishing spot when the owner saw the boat’s transom — the flat surface forming the stern — submerge, according to the sheriff’s report. Poynter fell overboard and the boat quickly capsized, the report said.
The owner was able to swim under the boat to retrieve the onboard emergency radio beacon, and at 10:32 a.m. the Coast Guard received an alert from a location about six miles off Huntington Beach, according to the report.
Just after 11:15 a.m., an Orange County sheriff’s boat arrived and found the overturned boat and the two men in the water. The boat’s owner was at the stern holding Poynter’s head above water, but Poynter was unresponsive, the report said.
At 11:20, Poynter was pulled out of the 56-degree water and lifesaving measures were started. He was taken to Los Alamitos Medical Center and died that day, according to the report.
The owner was taken to Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, the report said.
Investigators determined that the accident was caused by an approximately 400-foot section of broken coiled line that had been tied to an adjacent line. “The buoyancy of the line created an unseen hazard that would have been very difficult to avoid,” the report stated.
Catalina Sea Ranch is permitted to install 40 lines that can reach 689 feet long and are drilled into the sea floor in 150-foot-deep water. CSR is required to keep all anchored lines and farm apparatus at least 20 feet below the ocean surface.
According to the report, CSR had learned Dec. 17 that one of the anchored lines was broken.
“CSR’s negligent conduct before this incident and continued reckless disregard for the safety of the public after this incident as they refused to cut the line evidences a persistent effort to place profits over safety,” according to the Poynter family letter.
On Jan. 13 —10 days after the accident — sheriff’s deputies returned to the area where the boat capsized and saw a coiled CSR line floating at the surface and drifting with the current. After unsuccessfully trying to tie off the coiled line so it wouldn’t be a hazard, deputies eventually cut the line as far down into the water as possible and removed about 30 feet of line.
The Poynter family gave CSR 30 days to respond to the letter before moving forward with litigation.